Lt. Aric “Boogie” McGee enlisted in the United States Navy as an 18-year-old, just as he felt his life beginning to spiral out of control.
Growing up without a father in the picture, the young McGee relocated often with his single mother as the family struggled to make ends meet. Bouncing from apartment to apartment, from school to school, McGee eventually came to a crossroads.
“I had grown tired of instability and kind of had this gut-wrenching feeling that, this is wrong, you are going down the wrong path in life," McGee said in the seventh episode of a Navy documentary series, “Faces of the Fleet,” a project “that shares stories of family, responsibility, duty and second chances,” the series description says.
Each expertly-produced episode, the first of which debuted early this year, features a compelling story of an everyday sailor. Episode seven highlighted the life of McGee, whose first taste of the military was through hearing stories about the heroics of his elder cousin, Charles McGee, a Tuskeegee Airman.
But while the younger McGee admired the incredible accounts of aviator heroism, seeing himself as someone who was capable of becoming a pilot seemed infeasible.
“You think about statistically, your background, your struggles. People like you don’t make it that far...don’t make it to be pilots," he said.
So, as an 18-year-old, McGee decided to go enlisted and join the Navy.
“I remember checking in to my first squadron as an electrician. I walked into the hanger bay and I just remember the smell of the jet fuel and the oil and the grease. I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”
Despite the sense of belonging McGee felt in his new gig, the long-shot ambition of one day following in his cousin’s footsteps as a pilot never completely faded. Before long, McGee saw an opportunity and jumped at it.
“I immersed myself into it,” he said in the video. “I studied it. It became my craft. You really just gotta commit to the idea. That’s how you make things happen for yourself.”
Years later, he is now Lt. McGee, a 17-year Navy veteran flying MH-60R helicopters tasked with anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance and search and rescue.
“I’ve gone through stages where the initial time in my service was more about me,” McGee said in the episode. “Once I kind of established that for myself, and goal-setting, then I transitioned more into, ‘How do I be a good leader? How do I set a good example for other people to follow?’”
Good leadership is something McGee’s elder cousin has developed a thorough familiarity with.
“I think all of us have desires and goals that lead us in our growth and in our relationships," said retired Col. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskeegee Airmen. “What you do is not only for yourself. It’s for your family. Your family is for your community. Your community should be for your country.
“Life is a blessing,” he added. “Don’t let circumstances be your excuse for not achieving.”
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.