Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Over the past months, many people have been struggling with living a more confined life than usual because of COVID-19. Whatever level of quarantine anyone has been experiencing, imagine being underwater in a submarine for 60+ days at a time. Being stuck at home doesn’t seem quite so bad now, does it?
But, that’s exactly what Paul LaBarre of SightLife experienced during his six years in the Navy, working his way up to Lieutenant. Growing up in Connecticut, Paul always had a sense of adventure. He was in the ROTC in college at Northwestern University in Illinois and went immediately into the Navy as an Officer after graduation.
After training assignments in both Orlando and Idaho Falls, he was assigned to his first submarine, the USS Whale. The nuclear sub traveled under Arctic ice conducting strategic mapping around the North Pole. Paul says the hardest part of transitioning into the Navy was immediately being under sea for more than two months. “It was not a gentle transition,” he says. “But it taught me resilience and how to remain calm during times of uncertainty.”
Being part of a submarine crew is an elite assignment. There are only about 150 people on board, and they must pass multiple levels of psychological and technical training and assessments to ensure they’re able to handle the unique and mentally demanding environment. Paul’s first assignment on a submarine was as an Electrical Officer. He explains, “Submarines have miles and miles of electrical cable and instruments. They create their own power and electrical energy – and we kept it up, running, and well-maintained.”
While being in a submarine environment was challenging, Paul also liked the camaraderie that comes with being on the crew. “You build trust with your team through Naval traditions,” he says. “Earning your ‘dolphins’ (a pin) a year after you come on board shows your commitment. Other ‘rites of passage’ like the crossing the Equator ceremony, going through the Suez Canal, and Arctic Circle all build strong friendships.”
Paul says the things he was most excited to do once back on land were calling home, breathing real fresh air, and getting into the outdoors. Through his military career some of his travels and ports of call included: The North Pole, Norway, Scotland, Crete, Singapore, Puerto Rico, and Germany. These experiences gave him a greater understanding and respect for other cultures. He finds this translates to his domestic and international work for SightLife today saying, “Our job is not to change the culture but to find solutions that work within the culture – meeting patients where they are.”
When Paul decided he wanted to raise a family, he ended his Naval career, but still wanted to do something service oriented. He held several positions in different aspects of private sector and non-profit healthcare before coming to SightLife. He likens eye banking’s similarity to the military in that it is mission-driven.
His military background and training help him keep a positive attitude, embrace teamwork, and always represent the organization well. He says that sometimes his Naval background comes up in conversation, while his haircut, or his passion for organizational efficiency sometimes tips people off that he has served.
Paul says, “I always recommend military service to those who know their goals and priorities – but go in with your eyes open. It provides education, global perspective, and will set you up for success.”