The following speech was given by Captain Brent Blackmer of the U.S. Navy at the NFF State of Maine chapter dinner on May 24. He is a former chapter high school scholar-athlete from Deering High School and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Blackmer is currently one of the Navy's leading jet pilots with 4,000+ flight hours and 900+ carrier landings.

There are three rules to public speaking: be interesting, be brief, be forgotten. I can guarantee the last two… In an attempt to be interesting I’ll relate a story about flying and Patriots football – two of my greatest passions.

I had the honor of conducting the flyover of the AFC Divisional playoff after the 2004 season. We launched into a snowstorm and we flew well below Navy regulations to maintain sight of Gillette Stadium. We were slightly behind timeline and, to catch up, I went a bit faster than allowed by Navy regulations. So, when our two F/A-18 Hornets arrived overhead, in full afterburner, at 550mph and 200’ over the Razor in a snowstorm the Navy told me that my headwork was also well below Navy regulations, but at least the Patriots won 20-3 that night!

Before we go too far I’d like to thank you, the committee of the National Football Foundation, Howie Vandersea State of Maine Chapter (established 1987). I would specifically like to thank:

- President Mr Jack Cosgrove: the winningest coach in U Maine history, and father of 4.

- Tonight’s emcee, Mr Jack Dawson: a Chevrus/Boston College alumnus, former chapter Distinguished American Award recipient, and Father of 5.

- Mike Bailey – It’s much better to see you dressed up than scheming with some of my best friends (Tony, Josh, Ron) trying to put my face in the snow during the Thanksgiving Day game.

Additionally, I have several people in attendance who have been the greatest influences in my life:

-Former principal Paul Pendleton and his wife Maryanne.

-My wrestling coach, Al Kirk and his wife, Judy. Al is now in his fifth decade of coaching.

-My head football coach Bill Leroy and his wife Lee…I am eternally grateful for nominating me for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

-My sister Brenda – I’m hoping that tonight’s ceremony finally brings me out from under the shadow of perennially being “Brenda’s little brother”.

-My Mom Lorna, Mother of two, breast cancer survivor and wife to the best man in the world.

-And in absentia, My wife Dr Shannon Blackmer, who couldn’t be here tonight but who is the engine that drives me. I urge you to find that force in YOUR life and pursue it relentlessly.


This evening, I’d briefly like to address three topics.

1. Football is Life

2. Give back

3. Be Ready


1. Football is Life:
I don’t mean in some sort of crazy, “face-painted super fan” kind of way. Rather, football as a metaphor for life. What you’ve learned from, and dedicated to, football carries forward for the remainder of your existence. And that ties well into the National Football Foundation Mission: To promote the power of amateur football in developing the qualities of leadership, sportsmanship, competitive zeal and the drive for academic excellence in America's young people. All of you have put in a tremendous amount of hard work, dedicated the quiet hours and toiled to improve yourselves on the football field.

Yet some of you will never play another down of competitive football in your life. But know that the time you've devoted to developing yourself in this sport is time well spent. It made you a better man. A better leader. That effort taught you to sacrifice, for yourself and for your team.

Those struggles increased your awareness of the differences between those who wish it and those who will it; for there is an ocean of difference between men who try - and in so trying may fail - and others who merely hope. For hope is never a strategy; perseverance, passion and trust will always carry the day.

So in life, as in football, put your fingers in the grass and get after it. Work harder than the person across from you. Walk with equal parts confidence and humility. Never break your word; to yourself or to others. Strive to do your best on every play, every day.

Jack Dawson once said: “Perhaps most fulfilling, at this stage, is that football, through its players and coaching-colleagues, continues to educate me; and reinforces the work ethic that is so characteristic of the game.” I don’t think anybody could have expressed it better. Thank you Jack.


2. Give back

The most famous Bowdoin alumnus, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who once walked these very halls, wrote to Maine's Governor during the Civil War: "I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until men are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice their dearest personal interests, to rescue our country from desolation, and defend the national existence against treachery."

When I applied to the Naval Academy I’m not sure I did so out of such altruism. I went to Annapolis, I thought, to learn how to fly. When I arrived in there, they shaved my head and America soon was headed to war in the Middle East in the largest military movement since World War II.

When combat began, just months after my arrival, I reflected on the great influences in my life and of the coaches who enabled me to walk this path.

I thought of coach Bill LeRoy who introduced the idea of the Academy while I was on the football field and then shepherded me through the application process. And of Al Kirk who took our team to Norwich & gave a glimpse inside military living. With their assistance I was able to earn the right to serve America; so much more profound than just wanting to be a pilot.

Since then my entire existence as a Naval Officer has been dedicated to supporting our troops engaged in close combat with an extremist enemy by properly training and leading every person under my charge.

But tonight is about you and YOUR journey, men. You should be justifiably very proud of your accomplishments. Tonight serves as recognition of your competence, your intestinal fortitude and your achievements. But more importantly it can be a springboard for the rest of your life. You are all highly accomplished, clearly, but this will not be the highest honor that you will receive.

Much more is in store for you. Many of you will be Doctors, engineers, leaders…all of you will be game changers. All of you have greatness inside of you. You’ve earned the right to be great. Through your hard work, through your failures, through your victories.

But greatness not leveraged for the good of others is merely a whisper, not a roar. Remember those who helped you arrive here; emulate them, give like they gave, continue the cycle.


3. Finally, Be Ready

Because you never know when your moment will find you. As I referenced earlier, I thought that being a pilot meant flying majestically with the Blue Angels, and that is what drew me in when I saw my first airshow with My Dad. Several years later, having had a chance to fly with the Blues, in the backseat of a good friend’s jet as #4 in the slot, I was reminded of John Magee who once wrote: “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth…The high untrespassed sanctity of space, I put out my hand, and touched the face of God”.

Beautiful words, yes, but that is NOT what it means to be a pilot. In 2003 I launched the first sortie of OPERATION Enduring Freedom for our carrier strike group. It was supposed to be an administrative mission to get the flow of the 8 hour cycle with its 3 tanker refuelings and 4 hours overhead troops on the ground so that I could brief the rest of the 140 aviators in the air wing about flying over Afghanistan. After a 60 minute transit through Pakistan we were called away from our first refueling tanker to defend American troops whose 25 truck convoy had been ambushed. They were in mortal danger, trapped in a ravine and fighting for their lives.

What was supposed to be an administrative run turned into a life and death struggle for 94 dismounted American troops who didn’t need a pilot dreaming of “slipping the surly bonds of Earth”. They needed an aviator, trained for combat, launching off an aircraft carrier 10,000 miles from his beloved state of Maine to BE READY; to be ready to deliver precise and effective firepower to enable them to return home to their beloved states.

And because I once sat exactly where you sit now, having learned the lessons that we all did on the football field, I was ready.

What will be your moment? Will you be ready? 
Will you give back? Will you apply your hard fought lessons learned?

I am certain that you will and we can’t wait to see it.

Congratulations. Good night and God Bless America.