FTSN Casey Lopez defies odds, earns FT 'A' School Honor Graduate

16 September 2022

From Lauren Laughlin

Every year the U.S. Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut, graduates more than one thousand submariners who then enter the U.S. Naval Submarine Force. However, this is a small percentage of sailors compared to the number of sailors who serve in surface jobs. Not all sailors want to serve on submarines and not all sailors are able to. The journey to becoming a submariner is long and hard, and it’s a journey that some sailors cannot make.
GROTON, Conn. (Sept. 16, 2022) U.S. Navy FNFT Casey Lopez receives her certificate of completion for finishing the U.S. Naval Submarine School Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School, Sept. 16, 2022. Lopez was also awarded the classes Distinguished Honor Graduate award during the ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Lauren Laughlin)
SLIDESHOW | 0 images | 220916-M-KB946-0002 GROTON, Conn. (Sept. 16, 2022) U.S. Navy FNFT Casey Lopez receives her certificate of completion for finishing the U.S. Naval Submarine School Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School, Sept. 16, 2022. Lopez was also awarded the classes Distinguished Honor Graduate award during the ceremony. (U.S. Navy photo by Lauren Laughlin)
GROTON, Conn. (Sept. 16, 2022) U.S. Navy FNFT Casey Lopez receives the award for Distinguished Honor Graduate during the U.S. Naval Submarine School Fire Control Technician gradation ceremony, Sept. 16, 2022. During the ceremony, Lopez was also given her certificate of completion for finishing the U.S. Naval Submarine School Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School. (U.S. Navy photo by Lauren Laughlin)
SLIDESHOW | 0 images | 220916-M-KB946-0001 GROTON, Conn. (Sept. 16, 2022) U.S. Navy FNFT Casey Lopez receives the award for Distinguished Honor Graduate during the U.S. Naval Submarine School Fire Control Technician gradation ceremony, Sept. 16, 2022. During the ceremony, Lopez was also given her certificate of completion for finishing the U.S. Naval Submarine School Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School. (U.S. Navy photo by Lauren Laughlin)


Every year the U.S. Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut, graduates more than one thousand submariners who then enter the U.S. Naval Submarine Force. However, this is a small percentage of sailors compared to the number of sailors who serve in surface jobs. Not all sailors want to serve on submarines and not all sailors are able to. The journey to becoming a submariner is long and hard, and it’s a journey that some sailors cannot make.

FTSN Casey Lopez was the exception. The Columbus, Ohio-native joined the U.S. Navy with the hopes of becoming a submariner. Lopez was ecstatic when she found out she had been chosen to attend the Basic Enlisted Submarine School and then Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School after.

“FT is the best rate in the U.S. Navy,” said Lopez. “It is God’s rate.”

However, Lopez’s path to becoming a fire control technician was not full of rainbows and unicorns. Due to an incident off base after graduating from BESS, Lopez found herself in front of the review board. The U.S. Naval Submarine School review and discipline boards consist of several senior ranking members of the school who determine the course of action for students who have strayed the path and not lived up to the U.S. Navy’s Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment.

“These boards allow us to evaluate and talk to students who have made mistakes,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Shane Adkins, the department master chief of the Submarine Electronics Computer Field department which runs Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School.
“During her review board, Lopez was frank and honest about the mistake she made. She spoke from the heart and stated that she would stay the course, make us proud, and graduate from FT ‘A’ School with the highest grade possible.”

Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School is one of the U.S. Navy’s hardest ‘A’ schools to get into and to pass. Only the top 10% of the submarine force is chosen to go into the school and the failure rate is around 30%. This job, found only aboard submarines, is associated with the submarine’s advanced electronic equipment that deal with guided missile systems and underwater weapons.

“Unlike many of the other jobs in the U.S. Navy, the equipment and technology that FTs use is secret,” said Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Huntley, an instructor at the FT ‘A’ School. “Everything that FTs learn is brand new information and training to them. Almost every other job out there has a video or photo of what the sailor will be doing, but not FT. Some students have a hard time with this.”

Lopez started her journey to become a FT in June 2022 with a negative mark record.

“I wanted to succeed and to show that my mistake was out of character,” said Lopez. “I knew the instructors were looking at me and I knew what I said to Senior Chief Adkins.”

To help students succeed in the U.S. Naval Submarine School, the school offers after hours study time with instructors on hand to help with any questions. While some students are instructed to attend these study sessions due to failing a test, the sessions are open to all students who want an extra helping hand.

“I went to every after hours study session I could find,” said Lopez. “I studied with FT instructors, I studied with FT students in my class, I studied with FT students in the class above mine, and I studied with the FT students in the class after mine. I studied until I knew everything about the FT course inside and out.”

Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School is around 13 weeks long depending on the time of year and consists of textbook work, written tests, and hands-on technical work and tests. The average class size is around 12 students, the smallest out of all the submarine school ‘A’ schools. Lopez’s class started with 12 but would only graduate with seven students. Her class also started with two women, Lopez and her roommate since BESS, but her roommate would end up needing to revert to another class. This made Lopez the only woman in her class.

“As for being the only woman student in class, it was not too hard,” said Lopez. “The men and I had a lot in common such as school, the Navy, and basketball. I schooled them in the classroom and on the basketball court.”

Lopez not only graduated from Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School, but she was the classes Honor Graduate. The Honor Graduate is the student with the highest grade in the class and who embodies the U.S. Navy Core Values, and to put the icing on the cake, Lopez kept her work to Adkins by finishing the class with a grade average of 99.

“Many students have messed up and then told me they would be amazing, graduate Honor Graduate, and get the highest grade,” said Adkins. “But she was the first to actually do it. Not only did she keep her word, but she has the highest final grade I have ever seen in all my years of teaching across all ratings.”

On September 16, 2022, Lopez crossed the stage in Lewis Hall in front of her shipmates and graduated becoming a U.S. Navy Fire Control Technician. She has been assigned to the USS Louisiana, an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine homeported in Bangor, Washington.
Lopez says that her favorite part about FT ‘A’ School is graduating and moving on to the real U.S. Navy.

“I cannot wait to get out there and do my job,” said Lopez.
 
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