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Making The Navy A Personal Challenge
by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Walter
June 20, 2018

A simple question changed the course of Robert Koontz’s life.

“What do you want to show for yourself 10 years from now?” his father asked.

He was a freshman in high school but had just dropped out due to falling in with a bad crowd. He found himself at a crossroads on what to do next. So his father asked him to look at the future.

Koontz does not know exactly why it took someone asking him that question in order to change direction but he knows that it helped him find a path because he had an answer to it. And that answer gave him a plan.

He went back to high school and finished on time. Then he walked into a recruiter’s office and said, “I don’t care what job you give me, I just want to be on a submarine.” It was a specific request for the type of ship but not without reason. His father, he learned, had been on a submarine. That was in 2011 and a month later, he was at boot camp.

Seven years later, Koontz is now a Sonar Technician (Submarine) 1st Class Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. He is presently serving as a local recruiter in Morristown, Tenn., not far from his hometown of Sweetwater, Tenn. It is a job in which he has excelled. So much so that he was recognized as Recruiter of the Year in 2017 for Navy Recruiting District (NRD) Nashville.

February 9, 2018 - U.S. Navy Sonar Technician (Submarine) 1st Class Robert Koontz outside of Navy Recruiting District Nashville. Koontz was recognized as the Recruiter of the Year for NRD Nashville in 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Timothy Walter)

When asked how he found a way to succeed, he again turns to wisdom from his father.

“My dad told me, the Navy is a game. Make it your own,” he said. The particular game that Koontz plays is to find challenges that are difficult. Even if he doesn’t reach that high bar, he still succeeds over and over at the lower level. In recruiting this means challenging himself to reach out and maybe change the mind of one person each year who he believes has no interest in the Navy.

“Last school year, my challenge was a girl who, during a phone call, told me she would never be interested in the Navy,” he said. “I was going to this girl’s school all year long for presentations but didn’t know she was there. Then one day, I saw a girl sitting behind the front desk at the sign-in area. I asked for her name and realized that she was the girl I had spoken to months ago. I asked her if she had reconsidered and by that point she had. She signed up as a nuclear operator for submarines soon thereafter.”

Another reason for success, he said, is genetic.

“I look like I’m 13 years old,” he said with a laugh. “I can blend in with the high school kids. I’m relatable.”

In fact, just as a joke he tried out for the varsity soccer team at one of the local high schools to get to know the students better.

“The coach thought I was a junior. The other students thought it was hilarious. I couldn’t go out every day because of my work schedule. But I just try different ways of recruiting. I like to have fun with it,” he said.

Ultimately, he said that the way he approaches recruiting is the same way he approaches the other challenges he has faced in the Navy.

“It’s not that I do things extraordinarily well. I just don’t accept failure anymore in my life. I give my maximum potential each day. There are days where I’m not 100 percent in it, like anyone else, but I come to work and I try to do my best with what I have. It might be a presentation with a class of 10 people. There may be no one interested but that’s fine. I’m speaking to that one person who may change their mind in six months,” he said.

He said that he uses his sea stories and life experiences to relate as well as give guidance to his future Sailors. And one of the easiest stories to tell is that of his answer to his father’s question. He told him that he wanted to have his dream car by the age of 25, with a nice house, a family and a good career option. He is now 26 years old and in his own words has achieved those goals.

“I got everything I wanted,” he said. “I‘ve got a decent house, with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. I have my dream car. I have my wife and my dog. I know if I do college, I will make it through with the discipline I have learned. The Navy didn’t just give it to me, I earned it. Everything is about sacrifice so you can reap the reward later.”

Now that he has earned the title of the recruiter of the year, he isn’t letting it change how he approaches the mission.

“I try to stay as humble as possible,” he said. “I’m not a great person because I can recruit a lot of people. It just means I did well at the job I was given. It was exciting to know I met the challenge but I knew the next day and the next month, there was still a job to do. And I have to meet it with maximum potential.”

Navy Recruiting District Nashville is one of 12 districts which make up Navy Recruiting Region East. More than 100,000 square miles are assigned to NRD Nashville including counties in Tennessee, Arkansas, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, northern Mississippi, southern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia.


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