On their way : LTJG Elise Chapdelaine
Elise Chapdelaine was born and raised in West Tisbury, but since 2002, when she graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, she has traveled far and wide, and she is about to see the world. She joined the Navy and she is now known as Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Chapdelaine.
photo from the regional high school.
As a young girl she wasn't sure about the future. "My dreams probably changed daily," Ms. Chapdelaine said in a recent telephone conversation from Camp Pendleton, in southern California, where she is stationed. "I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted - in true little girl fashion - to do something great."
But it wasn't long before Ms. Chapdelaine's goals for the future started to solidify.
"In my junior year in high school, I found out about the Naval Academy," she said. "I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do in the Navy, but I knew I wanted to go to the Academy. It seemed to present a challenge that was intriguing."
Ms. Chapdelaine is not one to turn down a challenge. "I never really backed away from something because it seemed scary," she said. "It usually seemed like an interesting thing to do, so I tried it."
Applying to the Academy was a challenge in itself, "especially at a school like MVRHS where not many kids apply to a military academy, just figuring out all the wickets," Ms. Chapdelaine said. But she had plenty of support, particularly from Mary MacDonald in the guidance office, and Lisa Knight in the physical education department.
At the high school, Ms. Chapdelaine ran cross-country and played lacrosse all four years. And she maintained her athletic commitment after high school, first at Goucher College in Maryland, where she spent one year, and then at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
"When I was at the Academy, lacrosse was not a varsity sport," she said. "We were a club team. My senior year, when I was a co-captain, was the seed year, before the team went varsity. The transition from club to varsity was really cool to be a part of."
Off the playing field, the Academy hardly felt like play. "The Academy is a challenge," LTJG Chapdelaine said. "No matter how smart you are, how strong you are, it will find your weakness. Everyone has a moment or a month or a semester in which they are truly pushed, truly challenged, and I am no exception. All in all, I would not trade that education for the world.
"It was extraordinarily difficult at times, and it was so much fun. The opportunities you get are just amazing. I got to fly in a helicopter, I got to fly a training plane, I spent time on a ship and a submarine. I led a platoon patrol at Marine basic school out in Quantico, I qualified on a rifle and an M16, and that's just the tip of the iceberg really."
After graduating from the Academy, things moved quickly for LTJG Chapdelaine. "First I went to Civil Engineer Corps (CEC) Officer School, and that's about three and a half months long," she said. "From there, I got orders for Camp Pendleton, and I have been here since. I arrived at Pendleton in August, 2008."
At Camp Pendleton, LTJG Chapdelaine has experienced the range of responsibilities and complexities that are required to drive a functioning, efficient military. "It's easy to think that the military is only the Marine Corps infantryman, armed with his M16 boots, on the ground in Iraq, but the military is so much more than that. What I do, I absolutely love. It's been interesting, challenging, frustrating, and a lot of fun as well. I am a construction manager. All of the construction on Navy and Marine Corps bases is done by civilian contractors, and there is a liaison between the contractor's project management team and the government, and that is me. That's what I do. Currently, I have eight projects on my plate. Together, they total about $37 million."
In response to an observation by The Times that it seemed like she had a lot of responsibility, Ms. Chapdelaine said with a laugh, "You're telling me!" Then she added, "In this job it's critical to support the mission of the Marines and balance that against spending the taxpayers money in the most effective manner."
Soon LTJG Chapdelaine will be taking her expertise overseas. "In CEC, officers do one tour in a job like I'm in now, and you also do tours with the Seabees," she said, speaking of the Navy's Construction Battalions. "I will be going to a Seabee battalion after I leave Pendleton this coming July to be a platoon commander. The main bases of the deployment are Okinawa and Guam. The missions are mostly humanitarian - building schools, wells, repairing roads and general infrastructure. I just recently found out, and I'm very excited about it."
As for the long term, Ms. Chapdelaine is uncertain, but faced with attractive choices, she looks eagerly toward the future. "Given how much I enjoy this job and how excited I am about the opportunities ahead of me, at this point I think I'll probably sign up for another five years active," she said. "There are a number of billets that I'd like to have while in the military.
"After that I'm not sure. If I still really love what I'm doing, and I'm good at it, there's the possibility to make the Navy a career. One of the great things about this job is it also sets me up very well for a career outside the Navy. Construction, project management, engineering - all of those are skills that I'm getting now. And they are things that I like doing."
Lieutenant Chapdelaine is the daughter of Harold and Joan Chapdelaine of Tisbury.
On Their Way is a new, occasional series, beginning today, in which The Times introduces Martha's Vineyard Regional High School graduates who have moved on to establish themselves in careers on- or off-Island. We are looking for young people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way you might imagine. Your suggestions will be welcomed by Nelson Sigelman or Whit Griswold, at The Times.