David Jacobs-Pratt graduated from Edward Little High School in 1975 and joined the U.S. Navy that same year.

“I didn’t like school,” admits the ELHS special education teacher. “I knew I needed an education, but I wasn’t ready for more school. I knew I needed to leave to become who I was going to be.”

Although he tested first for the Air Force, he felt that branch of the Armed Forces was limited in what matched his interests. “I really wanted to wear that Cracker Jack uniform – it was travel and the sea. Being near the ocean was very important and exciting to me.”

His 12 weeks of Navy boot camp in Orlando provided several firsts for Jacobs-Pratt. “It was my first airplane ride, and it was the very first time I was in a place with people who didn’t look like me. I had never seen a black man before.” He describes his experience as “fantastic.”

“If you applied yourself and worked, you were recognized,” he recalled. “We had three tremendous meals a day, exercise, and all you had to do was follow directions.” Jacobs-Pratt actually needed a waiver for boot camp, as he was underweight going in at 5’10” and 112 lbs. “I came out at 127 pounds,” he said.

Graduation was a phenomenal experience for him. “It’s something that’s your own decision. There’s a lot of attention to detail (folding clothes, holding a weapon, etc.) during boot camp. There’s marching, and classes, and learning survival skills.”

Interestingly, you don’t need to know how to swim to join the Navy. Jacobs-Pratt didn’t. “If you go overboard in the middle of the ocean, they don’t expect you to swim anywhere; you just need to be able to stay on top of the water. That’s the key.”

Following graduation, he attended machinists’ school in Chicago. “It was my lowest score on the test, but that’s where the need was.” He eventually received orders to Norfolk, Virginia, assigning him to an aircraft carrier – “The Independence.” He had one more stop to make, however.

“My wife graduated from Edward Little on Wednesday, we were married Thursday, and I was on board ship by Saturday,” he said.

As a machinists’ mate, he would spend five or six years on sea duty, followed by two years of shore duty. “When you’re in port, you can go home, but your ship is the command.” About two months is spent rebuilding, cleaning, and otherwise getting the ship ready for its next tour of duty, as well as tests and drills to keep everyone’s skills sharp. He also worked two tours of duty on the “The Forestall” from 1977 until 1981. “That was my first cruise to Europe, and it was awesome!”

In 1981 he spent three years as a recruiter in Boston. That’s when his younger brothers, Timothy (EL, 1981) and John (EL, 1983), joined the Navy. “Both did eight to 10 years and John even got his bachelor’s degree during that time. We all served in the Navy at the same time.”

Not all of his sea time was assigned to Europe, however. “We did ops down in Panama, during the time of Noriega, also in the Persian Gulf, supporting and defending Iraq from Iran,” he related. “It was brutally hot, even on the ocean, and there was sand everywhere in the Persian Gulf and no liberty ports. We were on board a long time.”

Jacobs-Pratt acknowledges the “conflict” inside military personnel who train every day to perform a certain job but never get to utilize those skills in a Theater of Operations, where men and women are in the midst of the action.

“Inside there’s a conflict. It would be like (continuously) training to be a teacher but never being allowed to teach,” he explained. “You’re constantly training for the ‘what if’ situations.”

Jacobs-Pratt’s last tour was on an Admiral’s staff in Jacksonville, Fl., “the highlight of my career,” he says. He took part in further training and then became the admiral’s advisor on “equal opportunity and prevention of sexual harassment as well as quality of life issues.”

In the wake of the 1991-92 “Tailhook” scandal – involving naval pilots who sexually abused female officers at a convention in a Las Vegas hotel – Jacobs-Pratt’s responsibilities included developing a program for the southeast quadrant of the U.S. to address sexual harassment. He testified in court cases as an expert investigator and developed training manuals. “Things are going to happen, but it’s critical to know how to deal with it,” he explained.

Jacobs-Pratt retired after 20 years. By then he and his wife had decided it was time to devote their energies to raising their young children. “We waited 13 or 14 years to have children because we wanted to have them when I was getting closer to retirement,” he said. In the meantime, Jacobs-Pratt, who never really liked school, had earned a bachelor’s degree while serving in the military.

“When I got out I worked in human resources for a while, but I didn’t adjust well to civilian life,” he acknowledged. “When you look at another person in uniform, you already know a lot about them, but out here, people wear so many different things In the military, you learn multiple skills, but out here, they want only one component of you, when you have so much more to offer.”

For a while he worked helping people with disabilities find employment, then he secured a position doing that same outreach for veterans. “That was awesome. I could identify with where they were coming from. I was always doing things that would benefit other people.”

Eventually, he returned to his roots, went back to school and became certified as a teacher. He’s in his seventh year, his fourth at Edward Little. “I caught on. I connected with kids.” His military pension as well as a part-time job at The Home Depot helps “support my habit of teaching,” he says. “Part of my job is to get kids to think about what they’re going to do in September, after they graduate”

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