From Sea Cadet to Special Ops to Scientist

By Zeeshan Parvez

University of California, Los Angeles

Ph.D., Materials Chemistry

Tillman Scholar

Ever since my youth, I had always wanted to join the military and serve under one of the special operations units in the four branches. Having this goal in the back of my mind through my freshman year of high school, I began actively seeking organizations that could give me relative experience in this field. During an airshow visit, I came across Mr. David Kerwood, the Commanding Officer of NCBC Battalion (in Rhode Island) who informed me about how the USNSCC could facilitate my goal. The main selling point was how the summer trainings could give relative experience in special operations by allowing me to work with the units I sought to join. Ever since that day, I was full throttle with the USNSCC.

During my time in the USNSCC, I learned a great deal from my home unit, NCBC Battalion, and through the summer trainings that I attended. The most influential of these trainings was explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, school held at NAB Little Creek Virginia. The hardships that we faced and the camaraderie that we developed here was unparalleled. My fondest memory of this training was the free time that we had after a critical evolution, where our small class came together and talked about the day, our lives, and our aspirations in life.

After leaving the USNSCC, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was selected to become a critical skills operator (CSO) in the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). During this time, I was assigned to perform foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Upon completion of my four-year contract, I exited the military to pursue my Bachelor of Chemical Engineering degree at Pennsylvania State University. Subsequently, I completed my Master of Energetic Chemistry degree concurrently with a Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Rhode Island. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Chemistry at the University of California Los Angeles, with an end goal of starting a business later down the road.

The USNSCC was truly the stepping-stone that launched my career and gave me the ability to handle difficult hardships that I faced in MARSOC and my academic career. It provided me with the ability to adapt to changing situations, regardless of how extreme the change. This allowed me to become a CSO in MARSOC at a very young age; make the transition from military to a difficult STEM field; pursue degrees at opposite ends of the spectrum in chemistry and business concurrently; and the ability to take calculated risks with high stakes.

My advice to cadets who are considering the military and/or college is to make the most of their time in the USNSCC and attend the summer schools that are related to their target fields. If you build a solid foundation now and develop the ability to adapt early, every obstacle in your path will become traversable.