Local officer hopes to inspire Franklin’s youth

Published 10:54 am Saturday, November 8, 2014

James T. Nichols hugs his son, Jacob, after being commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer. -- Frank Davis | Tidewater News

James T. Nichols hugs his son, Jacob, after being commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer. — Frank Davis | Tidewater News

From a young age, James Nichols knew that he was not one to follow convention.

As a senior at Franklin High School in 2003, Nichols enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program of the United States Navy, in hopes that he’d one day return to his hometown as a valued member of the community.

Nichols returned to Western Tidewater earlier this month for a commissioning ceremony, otherwise known as a promotion from Naval Cadet to commissioned officer. Now a leader of soldiers, Nichols hopes that the area youth will also look to him for guidance and instruction.

“I was challenged at a very young age to think outside of the box and to step out of my comfort zone,” said Nichols. “I don’t want to be considered a hero, but my goal is to be a mentor to young people in Franklin. They can look at my path and see that I did something new, instead of thinking there’s only one way to do something.”

The Franklin High School graduate believed there was more to the world than going to a four-year college or university and simply getting a job. That’s why Nichols decided to take a unique route into the military through delayed entry.

“I’m not knocking the experience of college, or those who do go to a traditional four-year university,” Nichols said. “Honestly, it’s probably a little quicker to do just that. You’d graduate at 23 or so, but I graduated with my bachelor’s degree at 26, and it was completely paid for.”

While he was working on his Bachelors of Science in Computer Studies at Excelsior College, Nichols was touring the world. At 21-years-old, Second Class Petty Officer Nichols deployed to Djibouti, Africa, where he was responsible for various Department of Defense networks. Upon completion of his assignment in 2007, he returned to the U.S.S George Washington (CVN-73), stationed in Norfolk, earning several specialist qualifications.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S.S. George Washington conducted a port shift, deploying Nichols and the rest of the crew to Yokosuka, Japan.

As a Network Security Analyst in Yokosuka, Nichols completed several courses and qualifications, allowing him to rise quickly through the ranks. In 2010, Nichols was promoted to First Class Petty Officer and was sought out to train in the Western Pacific Ocean onboard the U.S.S. Blue Ridge (LCC-19) and U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) to earn sailor qualifications. Because of this, Nichols was selected as the Center for Information Dominance Learning Site Senior Sailor of the Year in 2012.

In 2013, Nichols volunteered to deploy to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to manage networks at the NATO Role 3 Air Field Hospital. While on assignment, Nichols was promoted to Chief Petty Officer.

Nichols noted that he would not have been promoted so quickly, or at all, without volunteering his services.

“I want to challenge young people to be forward thinking and constantly better themselves,” he said. “You have to continue to be willing to try something new.”

Nichols’ decorations, including 28 different achievement medals and various unit and campaign awards, outline a career that is just reaching its halfway point. In fact, Nichols said they very few sailors rise to the rank that he has attained.

“Roughly only 5 percent of the sailors in the Navy become commissioned officers,” he said.

Most recently, Nichols was stationed on the U.S.S. Bataan (LHD-5), but returned home after an eight-month deployment in the Middle East.

“I was exposed to many different people and places that you’d never see if you went to college and simply got a job,” Nichols said. “There’s nothing wrong with doing that, though. I’m just trying to promote the Navy and beauty of taking the path less traveled.

“By no means do I have an agenda, I just want to educate young people and help them understand that there’s more out there than what they see every day.”

Nichols believes that his next promotion within the Naval ranks is two years away, and he hopes that he can continue to be a role model for those in Franklin area.

“I understood at a very young age that you don’t have to follow someone else’s path to get where you want to be,” the U.S. Navy Officer said. “You make the most of every opportunity, and I just want to push that message to today’s young people.”