JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nineteen years ago, Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 1st Class Brennen Blackwell and his twin brother Brent Blackwell enlisted in the Navy seven days after 9/11. The two joined out of their hometown of Detroit, Michigan, and they both planned to become Navy Rescue Swimmers. Enlisting as Naval Aircrewmen was the path they chose to make that goal a reality.
The Blackwell twins shipped off to boot camp at Recruit Training Command (RTC), Great Lakes, Illinois, where they tested and qualified to be rescue swimmers.
“It was great to be able to start off our careers together,” said Brennen Blackwell. “My brother and I got to share the experience together through the buddy program. It really was a once in a lifetime experience.”
After graduating from RTC, they would attend Naval Aircrew Candidate School and Naval Rescue Swimmer School in Pensacola, Florida. That’s where their journey together would change course.
Brent Blackwell shipped out to San Diego, California, and Brennen Blackwell took orders to Naval Station Mayport, located in Florida, to complete his training as an aircrewman.
After Brennen Blackwell completed training, he transferred to HSL-46 in Jacksonville. That’s where the brother’s path would cross again because Brent Blackwell took orders to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 10, in Jacksonville. The brother both completed multiple deployments while stationed in the same region.
“It was a dream come true to put in all the hard work, have it pay off and travel the world in the Navy as a rescue swimmer,” Brennen Blackwell said. “At the time, I honestly couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing in the Navy. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
While the brothers were on deployment, the two unexpectedly crossed paths with each other aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN 65).
“I went on deployment and just happened to land on a ship he was on,” said Brennen Blackwell. “When I first saw him, I was on a mail delivery and it was a surprise. I was so happy to see him.”
Brennen Blackwell’s Navy career later brought him full circle to RTC as a swimming instructor for a three-year tour. His was living out his goals and dreams, when he received bad news.
He wasn’t going to get orders to recertify as a rescue swimmer, which is a requirement to keep the qualification after being outside the job for an extended period of time. Determined to find a way to gain his qualification back, he transferred to San Diego, California with HSM-41 to qualify on a new type of helicopter and to requalify as a rescue swimmer.
A week before completion of rescue swimmer re-qualification, Brennen Blackwell’s executive officer pulled him aside and gave him more bad news. His record had been reviewed in an Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) and his time in the Navy, doing the job he loved, would soon come to an end.
At that time, the ERB reviewed 31-overmanned ratings. The goal was to help the Navy rebalance personnel in terms of seniority, experience and skills.
“It was heart breaking when I got the news that I was being separated from the job I love,” said Brennen Blackwell. “At that time, I had 10 years in as a second class petty officer and was unsure of what I was going to do next.”
The executive officer told him he had two options: stay attached to his current command for one year or transfer to a squadron in Jacksonville. After talking with his wife, they decided to move to Jacksonville where he spent a year at HSM-74 before the ERB processed him out of the Navy September 2012.
After the ERB took effect and Brennen Blackwell had been processed out of the Navy, he decided he loved the Navy too much to give it up completely. He joined the Navy Reserves out of Navy Operational Support Center (NOSC) Jacksonville where he drilled for three years and went to school full time for two of those years, using his GI bill toward a criminal justice degree at Columbia College, Jacksonville.
Finances soon became a challenge for Brennen Blackwell and his family as he wanted to continue with school, but he needed another source of income. That’s when he got a job as an armored car driver for roughly a year.
“That job was a little too stressful, so I kept looking for other options,” Brennen Blackwell said. “I heard about the Navy’s Canvasser Recruiter (CANREC) program and decided to apply for it, and for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO).”
He was selected for both the JSO academy and the CANREC program and needed to make a decision. He knew he wanted to finish his naval career, and after getting the blessing from his wife, he chose the Navy CANREC program. He was then stationed at Naval Recruiting District (NRD) Jacksonville in 2015.
Brennen Blackwell said he is all about helping people. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, and seeing what the Navy has done for him, he said he wants to provide the same opportunities for others and share his story with the youth. That is why he felt like recruiting was the next best spot for his career.
“Recruiting has given me the chance to stay in the Navy and be able to finish out my career. Without the CANREC program, I wouldn’t have had that chance,” said Brennen Blackwell. “I would have stayed in the reserves if that’s what it came down to. I’m truly grateful that I get to finish my career in such a rewarding job.”
After being selected for the CANREC program, he attended school at Navy Recruiting Orientation Unit in Pensacola, Florida. Starting as a new CANREC recruiter, he got his feet wet as a prior service recruiter out of NOSC Jacksonville for more than a year.
“The Navy has taught me perseverance and to never give up on your goals,” said Brennen Blackwell. “I had that ‘never give up’ attitude from being a rescue swimmer, and now I just apply it in a different way.”
Now as NRD Jacksonville’s leading petty officer and the district’s top special warfare recruiter, he plans to continue the career he loves. He was selected to convert to Navy Counselor (Recruiter) upon his next reenlistment. Excited to continue his naval service, Brennen Blackwell said he tells everyone to never give up on their dreams.
Brent Blackwell is currently on deployment with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, but the brothers still maintain a close relationship. They also plan on concluding their careers the same way they began: together as family.
“I think he’s going to move back to Jacksonville,” said Brennen Blackwell. “He’s coming here to retire because my parents built a house here in Jacksonville. My wife and I built a house here too, so we’re probably going to retire here. I mean, we have our own families, but after we retire, we’ll hang out and maybe find another job.”
Brennen Blackwell said he is proud of his brother and proud they have served together even if their paths took them in different directions at times. As a recruiter, Brennen Blackwell helps future Sailors start their career paths so they can go on to accomplish their goals and dreams. That’s something both brothers say they can appreciate.