“We were deployed over Christmastime and our chief of the boat had a sister who was a teacher at a local school (in Connecticut),” recalled Capt. James Prouty, commanding officer of Navy Reserve Center Norfolk. “Her students made these Christmas cards, then sent them to us at sea. I was 19 years old, and I'm getting this card from this person. I had no idea who they were. But I was just floored by the fact that the public actually cared enough to send us cards like that.”
Back in 1995, while serving as an electronics technician aboard the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Annapolis (SSN 760), Prouty saw firsthand how interacting with youth in his Navy capacity could affect change. Prouty had a chance to meet his new pen pal when he and the ship’s COB later paid the school a visit. According to Prouty, his pen pal experience changed how he viewed his role in the Navy.
“Coming from a broken home and a broken family, when I joined the Navy, the Navy became my new family,” said Prouty. “I soon saw how the community could become a part of that family too. Those school children actually supporting the military became a part of our extended family.”
Having been through a troubled childhood, at a young age, Prouty was sent to LaSalle School for Boys. In 1992, the 14-year-old Prouty decided to join the ROTC unit at his high school.
“I wasn’t exactly the poster child for high school students back in the day,” he said.
Prouty said he is now able to use his shared experience with the current students of LaSalle to relate to and, hopefully, inspire them.
“When I talk to the folks at LaSalle, who are there because they’re troubled children, I know they’ve had a very rough life,” said Prouty. “ I tell them, "Hey, I was in your shoes." You can see their eyes. You can tell when their eyes change and their demeanor changes from "Oh, here’s the guy who just talked to us," to "Oh, wow, this person was here!"'
Today, Prouty makes it one of his missions to visit his high school Alma Mater every three to four years to talk to young boys who are in the same shoes he once walked in.
“I talk to those young lads to let them know that what brought them there doesn’t necessarily define their futures,” he said. “I show them all about the Navy and talk about what an experience I’ve had, and that they too can have those experiences if they want.”
Prouty also actively served as a guest speaker this past March at Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Va., for the school’s "Falcon Fest," a time where the school invites people from all walks of life to visit and speak with the students.
“Not everyone can be your valedictorian, not everyone’s going to already be accepted into college,” said Prouty to the assembled student body. “But if you want, a bright future is out there for you.”
Today, Prouty positions himself daily to be an example for others.
"I try to share the message that, "Hey, this is what joining the Navy has done for me, and I’ve seen that it can better people,”' he said.
Every Sailor has had their own individual experiences in the Navy. Prouty believes it is a leader's job to find ways to use his or her own personal experiences and narrative to show Shipmates what's possible through mentorship and active listening.
“I am a recruiter," said Prouty. "Not one who earns a ribbon, but one who represents the Navy every day. We all represent the Navy. We should always be looking for other people to join the Navy. Because in fact, I'm looking for my relief.”
According to Prouty, honorable service transcends self, and pointing Shipmates toward new opportunities raises the quality of the entire team.
“When I first joined the enlisted community, very few people had bachelor’s degrees,” said Prouty. “Nowadays, I see enlisted folks with master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. It’s impressive. That makes me feel good inside.”
Today, leading the charge to keep Navy Reserve Sailors warfighting ready as the commanding officer of Navy Reserve Center Norfolk, Prouty hopes to take advantage of every opportunity to empower Sailors to lead, motivate and inspire from wherever they are.
"No matter what your background, it is your choice to lead by example," said Prouty. "Sailor advocacy comes in various forms. Whether it's going to talk to kids about your life experiences, or leading by example and sharing knowledge with junior Sailors, we are all recruiters for the world’s finest Navy. We can all do our part to make it the Navy we want and need it to be."