When Brandon Strickland joined the Navy just after high school, he never imagined it would lead to a job at the White House. On Feb. 10, he traveled back to his hometown of Minford and shared his experiences with his former teacher, Theresa Havens and her students.
Growing up, Strickland said he hated almost everything about school – aside from gym class and playing sports.
“My senior year of high school, I just had two classes so the rest of the time, I was in study hall or gym. I caused so much trouble for my study hall teachers, they didn’t want me in the room. So I would always go to the gym,” said Strickland. “The school would always have different recruiters come and do presentations and talk to us and I would always help the Marines set up their obstacle courses when they would come.”
After high school, all of Strickland’s friends were making decisions about colleges or entering the work force, Strickland says he just felt lost about his direction.
“I originally thought I would join the Marines, I went to the recruitment office and they were closed that day. All the men in my family went through the Navy, so my dad took me to see the Navy recruitment office. He asked me why I wanted to be a Marine and all I could say was, ‘cause their awesome,’ he put on a video of the Navy divers and I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Strickland.
But, things weren’t that simple. Strickland enrolled in dive school and did well, until they asked him to let himself pass out underwater.
“I just couldn’t do it, there was no way,” said Strickland. “I quit. Four months later, I was caught in a bad spot, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. I got a call from the same Navy recruiter that October, he said, ‘hey man, I’m not going to beat around the bush with you, I’m supposed to scare you and tell you that you’ll end up in jail, but that’s not going to happen. If you want to join the Navy it’s now or never.’ I left for basic training two weeks later.”
Strickland thought that joining the Navy would excuse him from schooling – but that wasn’t the case. He ended up studying micro-conduits, repairing chips used for delicate machinery.
“Each one of these chips would cost around $25,000, it’s pretty difficult to get supplies when you’re out in the middle of the ocean,” explained Strickland. “So us knowing how to repair them was essential.”
Strickland worked aboard the USS Chung Hoon, based in Pearl Harbor Hawaii. It was in Hawaii, where he met his wife, Chelsea.
“We just got married spur of the moment, we’d only known each other two months, but we’ve been together for five years now and we have a beautiful 3-year-old son named Jack,” said Strickland.
After the birth of their son, Chelsea pushed Strickland to go back to school and pursue an education. He enrolled at the University of Maryland, where he is studying Political Science and is set to graduate this Spring.
It was also during this time that he applied for a position at the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). After a year of extensive background checks and interviews, Strickland was hired.
He says a basic description of his job is ‘making the president look professional.’ Strickland and a team of other WHCA employees do everything necessary for speeches, events, and other public appearances.
“Whenever you see the president on T.V., there is an entire team of people behind that shot. There are a hundred other things that you don’t see,” Strickland explained. “We set up the lights, to make sure that there are no harsh shadows and to make sure that colors are coming through correctly. We set up the teleprompter screens, when the President is doing a speech, he’s looking right at the camera. Or at least it seems that way, the camera is actually set up to see right through the teleprompter. The words are projected exactly where he needs to be looking.”
Strickland shared other lesser-known facts about what goes into a presidential presentation or party with the students and showed them before and after photos of rooms as they are in reality, and what they look like after his team has worked their charm and how they appear on television.
Strickland says he has not yet worked for President Trump, but enjoyed his service to Obama and Biden. His last assignment was accompanying Vice President Biden to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum held in Davos, where he delivered remarks on the Cancer Moonshoot and also delivered an address on Foreign Policy, both of which, Strickland ran the teleprompter and lighting for.
“There was one point where it was just me and him,” said Strickland. “He just shook my hand and thanked me for all the work I’ve put in and told me how much he appreciated it.”
Strickland credits his success to luck, stating that the opportunities just seemed to sort themselves out before him. He plans to continue serving on the WHCA staff throughout the Trump presidency.
He said he hopes that sharing his story and experiences with the students will encourage them to do their best in whatever it is they pursue, whether it be academic or a career in the military, he hopes they will see that every day, ordinary, small-town people do have opportunities for success in the world – they just have to seek them.
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