August 27, 2015
By Jake Schultz '16
For Air Traffic Controller Brittni Latterell, joining the Navy wasn't just a life-changing decision, it was also an award-winning one.
The 2013 College of Saint Benedict graduate has received the Navy Club of the United States Military Excellence Award, the top award for a recruit.
"[The award is] presented to the graduating recruit who best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military appearance and behavior, self-discipline and teamwork," according to the Navy's website.
Latterell graduated from Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois, on June 5, but her commanding officers had a good feeling about her from the beginning. In week one, her recruit division commander (RDC) gave her a sheet of paper with questions pertaining to the award selection process, telling her to be prepared to answer them.
Though it was early in the process, RDCs were talking about Latterell being their early pick as "top, most squared away" recruit.
Each year, about 38,000 recruits cycle through basic training in the Great Lakes Naval Station at different times of the year, with 48 graduations taking place. That means there are 48 winners of the award and Latterell was selected first in her class of 679 recruits.
"I was shocked, I think," Latterell said. "I remember tearing up a little because I've never been No. 1 out of that many people. Valedictorian? I couldn't believe it really."
It's even more unexpected given her path to the military. The Big Lake, Minnesota, native worked with Information Technology Services while going to CSB/SJU (her mother, Tina Elwell, is the help desk support specialist in IT Services). After graduating from CSB with a degree in environmental studies she worked at World Bridge Language Center in Waite Park, Minnesota, but wasn't satisfied with what she was doing. She needed a change.
That change came one day in 2014 when her younger brother wanted to go to the Navy recruiter's office to enlist. While her brother took a test to determine his qualifications, Latterell chatted with the recruiter.
"The things they said about the lifestyle and how great of an experience and opportunity it is made me wonder if this is what I've been wanting in life," Latterell said. "I really wanted to make my family proud and doing something important with my life. Because my grandpa was in the Navy, he was really excited for me and my brother."
Latterell comes from a family with military experience but she also married into one. Her husband, Steven Harren, along with his dad and a few uncles, all spent time in the military. Steven and his dad were in the Air Force. It's safe to say, he supported her decision.
Now that she has graduated from training, Latterell has started classes to become an air traffic controller. This path, or "rate" in military terms, might seem like a drastic change from her old world of IT Services but that's how she wants it.
"I picked this rate because it was something different from IT Services which I had been doing since freshman year of college up until I joined the Navy," Latterell said. "When I told my uncle (a retired senior chief in the Navy) he said that not many people get the opportunity to pick that rate and said it is challenging but rewarding. I'm always eager to learn something new and air traffic control is definitely something new."
Four months into her five-year contract, Latterell has plenty of time to keep making her family proud.