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Johnson High grad is flying high at the Pentagon
Gainesville natives DOD job has him meeting global military leaders
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Lt. Cmdr. Brian Bartlett, right, walks with Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Navy Lt. Cmdr. talks about serving as protocol officer for U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For someone who has spent a career flying helicopters, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Bartlett has needed to adjust to an earthbound assignment.

But then, he has no ordinary desk job.

The Gainesville native and 1989 Johnson High School graduate serves at the Pentagon in Washington as protocol officer for U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"My main job is to support the chairman with what he needs in regard to any of the official functions, socials, parties, anything that he attends or hosts in the (Washington) D.C. area, and when he travels out of town for certain events," said Bartlett, 40.

Also, he runs the chairman's "counterpart support" program.

"Every country that has a military has a counterpart or someone who does what he does in the military," Bartlett said.

Mullen typically invites one of the foreign leaders to the U.S. about once a month.

The trip and itineraries that ensue "take a lot of planning, a lot of coordination," said Bartlett, who has met top brass and their aides from such countries as Israel, Japan, Korea and Pakistan.

It's a big change from Bartlett's past assignments, which include three deployments flying special-operations missions in Iraq.

"When you're in a squadron and you're so narrow-focused on what your squadron does, you don't think about its overall impact or strategic implications," Bartlett said. "You're just flying a helicopter. You just worry about what you're doing, going from A to B and doing your mission."

Flying has long been a dream for Bartlett, even though it took him a while to reach his goal.

"When Brian was in high school, the movie ‘Top Gun' came out and it just set him on fire, and all he wanted to do was go to the Naval Academy," said his father, Roy Bartlett, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1961.

His son got an appointment to the academy in Annapolis, Md., but two weeks before he was supposed to report, he was told the school had met its quota in midshipmen.

"He was devastated," said the elder Bartlett, who, along with his wife, Marie, live off Lake Lanier in North Hall. "I said, ‘Brian, they just lost a good Naval officer.'"

Brian Bartlett ended up at the University of West Georgia, where he graduated in 1994 with a degree in communications. He then went on to teach English in Japan for 1 1/2 years.

He returned to the U.S. in 1996, working for a Japanese newspaper during the Olympics in Atlanta.

"After the Olympics, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do ... and so I decided to give (flying) one last shot," Bartlett said. "I wasn't getting any younger."

He was accepted to the Navy's Officer Candidate School in December 1996 and was commissioned as an ensign in April 1997. After graduating from flight school in August 1998, he was involved in two deployments aboard the USS Eisenhower, the first one during peacetime in the summer of 2000.

Bartlett's second deployment began in February 2002, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was stationed off the coast of Pakistan and the Gulf of Oman supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

His Navy career went on to also feature a stint as a weapons and tactics instructor in Jacksonville, Fla.

He was deployed in November 2007 to the Persian Gulf, returning to the U.S. in June 2008. He would later serve as a squadron operations officer until March 2010.

About two years ago, he began talking with a couple of officers about his next assignment.

Bartlett wanted to return to Norfolk, Va., where he owns a home and where U.S. Joint Forces Command is based.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff job came up and Bartlett balked at first.

"It's nothing like anything I've ever done before," he said, adding that he doesn't particularly care "to live in the big city."

But then he warmed up to the idea. The clincher might have come when he asked his 4-year-old son what he thought about moving to the nation's capital.

His son was fine with the idea. "They have trains," he said.

Bartlett and his wife, Rachel, have two other sons.

"This is first time I've been on real shore duty since I've been in the Navy, so it's a good time to spend with the family," he said. "It's been a job I can leave at the office and that's something I haven't had before, which is nice."

Still, Bartlett yearns somewhat for the helicopter life.

At the Pentagon, surrounded by about 2,000 other employers, "I work ... with people from different backgrounds and different (armed) services, with nothing really in common other than we're all in the military.

"They're all very nice people, very professional, but I miss that camaraderie of being in a squadron."

Bartlett's orders call for him to "fly a desk" instead of a helicopter, as he put its, until March 2013.
But he has eyes on the coveted prize of becoming a commander.

"I get looked at for (that rank) in February," he said.

"That's the only big-picture goal I've had since I've come in the Navy. ... The pinnacle of leadership in aviation is to command a squadron."

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