Commander Jeffrey Betz

photo of Commander Jeffrey Betz

  • BA in Political Science (2001)
  • MA in International Studies (Navy Postgraduate School, Monterey, California)
  • Commander in the U.S. Navy, commissioned through Miami's Navy ROTC program
  • participated in 2011's Operation Odyssey Dawn, which toppled the government of Muammar Gaddafi
  • considered careers in the FBI, US Marshals, and car manufacturing

My Profession

"I'm in the Navy, where I'm referred to as a Surface Warfare Officer. This means that I essentially drive and guide ships, as opposed to a naval aviator, who flies a Navy jet or helicopter, or a submariner, who goes on a Navy submarine. As a Navy Commander, I manage and supervise enlisted sailors who maintain and operate the equipment, and I've been in the Navy since I was commissioned 16 years ago.

"My job takes me all over the world. I've been stationed in San Diego, Maine, Virginia, and Bahrain, and I've deployed multiple times throughout the Pacific and Atlantic. Some of my favorite locations where I've had the opportunity to serve include Marseilles, France; Lisbon, Portugal; London, England; Rota, Spain; and Sicily. It's neat to go to places that have so much history — you'll be underway at sea for a couple weeks or months, and then you pull into an awesome place and get to spend 4 or 5 days ashore, just seeing the sights.

"My master's degree is in international studies, with a focus on China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. I've spent some time deployed in the Pacific, specifically at a base in Sasebo, Japan, a couple hours south of Tokyo. We have amphibious ships based there, specifically designed to carry the Marines, which is my specialty in the Navy. All the deployments I've done have primarily been in support of the Marines — putting them ashore to do everything from hurricane relief to conducting combat operations in Iraq. I was on the amphibious ships that sent the Marines to conduct the first phase of Operation Odyssey Dawn, which was to topple the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

"I remember during 2012's Hurricane Sandy, which hit the east coast of the U.S., it was my son's birthday, and we got the call that we had to get underway to provide relief. I had to go tell my boy that I was going to miss his birthday, which made him very upset, but I explained, 'There are people out there who need our help, and so we have to go.' This was tough, but I feel that it really matters, and I appreciate the lesson I was able to teach my son: sometimes being able to do good means you have to make some personal sacrifices. We saved people's lives, and I'm very proud of that.

"The Navy has a pretty prescribed career path, and for much of the 16 years or so since I graduated from Miami, the Navy told me exactly what I was going to do. This has its pros and cons, but I tend to see the benefits. I currently work in a NATO assignment, which is very rewarding and informative because I work with officers from 13 different NATO countries. This has given me the opportunity to learn about their culture and naval traditions, and it's been one of the best experiences that I've had.

"One of the best things about being in the Navy is our constant interest in professional development for those coming up behind us. When I spoke recently to Captain Donald May, the CO (Commanding Officer) of Miami's NROTC unit, he told me how useful it was for his students to have someone on active duty in the fleet coming back to talk to them. I've gotten emails from students in the classes I've visited asking me follow-up questions from our discussions. It's really great to be around these young energetic people who are excited and engaged in their academic careers."

Best Miami Experiences

"I've always been interested in everything related to political science, whether we're talking domestic or international politics, constitutional or criminal law. I came into Miami as a political science major, and for about a year I was dead set on becoming a political scientist. Especially during my first semester I hit college really hard, finishing with a 4.0 and making the Dean's List. I enjoyed every minute of my political science classes — even dense ones like political theory, where we had to read Plato and stuff like that. I remember going to those classes and getting into wonderful debates and discussions.

"But some time around second semester I was basically out of gas. I felt I needed more structure in my life, and I had a couple buddies in ROTC who encouraged me to look into it. I saw what those guys were doing, and I just naturally felt that that level of structure would help me get back to where I was.

"It did. It's funny, but here I sit, 16 years later, and I'm still in uniform! I'd never really planned on making the Navy a career — I thought I'd become a Navy Judge Advocate General or use my law and military background to try to be an FBI agent or a US Marshal. But in a lot of respects, I feel that from the very beginning, the Navy saved me from myself and gave me something that I needed, some external motivation, to continue to work hard and apply myself. That's been true since my first day in the NROTC program at Miami.

"After I graduated from Miami, I went to the Navy Postgraduate School (NPS) to study in their international studies program. Although my master's has not led me specifically to a new career, I'm qualified to go into a special Navy program called Foreign Area Officers (FAOs), which are trained experts in different regions of the world. If I chose not to continue being a Surface Warfare Officer, I would certainly enjoy becoming an FAO. It's just that various issues — timing, family, other career stuff — all go into the pot when you have to make those decisions.

"Thinking back to my days at Miami, especially my first two years, some of my fondest memories would just be going to lunch and dinner with all my buddies in the dining halls. Everybody knows that it's fun to hang out with your buddies — and that's still true today, as a grown man. But I think back on all the laughs we had, and it's actually one of the things that has stayed true for me in the Navy — when you're underway at sea, you sit down and have meals with your colleagues, each and every day. You can't get away from it! I'm fortunate to have found, 16 years later, a similar kind of camaraderie.

"All the same, I don't think I've ever laughed so hard just going out to get some chicken fingers at Martin Dining Hall!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"One of the challenges with the liberal arts degree is you have to take a lot of classes in stuff that you're not necessarily interested in, and part of that is the point — to expose you to different things so you can figure that out.

"I remember as a freshman going in to talk to my advisor. He said, 'Listen, you're probably going to change your major two or three times, so let's focus on the Miami Plan so that whatever you decide your major's going to be, you've taken the core requirements, which frees up your time to do the stuff you have to do for your major.'

"At the time, I was frustrated. I said, 'Hey, man, I'm a political science major. I'm not going to change my mind.' But I realize now that I was very much in the minority — there are many students who need time to find out what they like. A liberal arts education provides a sample of different disciplines so you can zero in on what you like and what you're good at. It's important that you spend the time to check other things out, and the Miami Plan, with its focus on the liberal arts, gives students the opportunity to do that.

"This versatility and flexibility leads to another advantage of having a liberal arts degree. At various points of my career I considered getting out of the Navy. I'd talked to headhunters, I'd written my resume, and there was even a time when I was talking to the folks at the Honda plant in Marysville, Ohio and working in manufacturing. Though I'm happy with my decision to remain in the Navy, that opportunity came about from both my Miami degree and my military service."

Advice to Students

"As a college student, your life is filled with opportunities, and you have so many things that you can do next. That's a great place to be! It may sound something like what you'd read in a Hallmark card, but in a lot of ways it's true. Being equipped with that Miami degree makes the whole world open to you — you can really go out and do anything that you want when you leave here.

"One of the challenges that a lot of people deal with, young and old, is worrying about where they're going next. It's particularly difficult in the Navy, because that next thing could be a move from San Diego to Bahrain, or a 10-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. My advice is to focus on the now — do your very best on whatever you're doing now, and enjoy what you're doing now so that later on you can reap the rewards of all your hard work.

"As college students, your life is never going to be like this again. Everybody's got midterms and finals and worries about what comes after graduation — but just enjoy being here at Miami, and do well here and now. If you focus on that, all sorts of opportunities and good stuff will come. I myself know I cannot control what is going to happen a year from now, but I can show up on board the ship today, give it 100%, and look at myself in the mirror and know I did a good job. Whatever happens next, I'll be ready."

[March 2018]