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The Purbalite

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After a long journey, principal becomes a Navy officer

Two days after bringing baby Gwendolyn home, Tomaszewski received a call that would change his life. (Photo via Shaun Tomaszewski)

Two days after bringing his baby daughter home, Principal Shaun Tomaszewski embarked on another bold adventure: joining the United States Navy Reserve.

“My recruiter called me and said, ‘Hey, your life’s about to change again. You are being offered a commission in the Navy.’ It was such a whirlwind experience,” Tomaszewski said. 

It was an achievement he has been interested in for a long time, and now, at age 36, he was able to make it happen.

“I’ve always had that emotional connection to military service. When I am at the beach and the fighter jets fly overhead at Virginia Beach, it’s like this goosebumps-type feeling. When I’m in a harbor and I see a Naval ship, it’s this connection that I feel. That is the primary motivation that has always driven me to service,” he said. 

Tomaszewski would have participated in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while he was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, but at that time, the U.S. military had a policy in place called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Don’t Ask” allowed gay and lesbian soldiers to enlist or be commissioned in the military, but only if they were not openly gay. If they disclosed their sexual orientation, they would be removed from service. 

I was just never willing to hide who I was, and I knew that being openly gay and being in the Navy were not compatible.

— Shaun Tomaszewski

“It’s very different now than it was when I was an undergraduate student. You literally couldn’t talk about your family (back then). You would get an ‘other than honorable’ discharge – get kicked out of the Navy,” he said. 

During his time at Pitt, Tomaszewski met Christopher Fox, who eventually would become his husband. He could not imagine sheltering this part of his life. 

“I was just never willing to hide who I was, and I knew that being openly gay and being in the Navy were not compatible,” he said. 

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, and a few years after, Tomaszewski initiated the recruiting process. But his history of childhood migraines forced him to stop the process, and his goal of military service was put on hold for about seven years. 

Then last November, Tomaszewski received a call asking if he was still interested in joining the Navy. 

“I was too old to start as an Intelligence Officer, but after talking with the recruiter, he said (I) would be a great fit for the Human Resources Officer Community,” he said. So Tomaszewski got his security clearances and traveled to Buffalo for a medical examination. He passed, as the migraines were ruled a misdiagnosis, and subsequently a non-issue.

He then had two interviews: one about education and one about quantitative modeling, a specialty of Tomaszewski’s.

“There are computer models that dictate who gets a phone call whenever a 3,000-person aircraft carrier gets mobilized, figuring out how many people in each job category are needed,” he said. “That’s another one of my specialties because of my Ph.D. work.”

Next, his application had to go through a Select Board. There were about 75 people who made it through the two interviews to the Select Board, and Tomaszewski was one of the five who were offered a commission.

“My commissioning was literally just me – there wasn’t a class of people who were commissioned into the Navy,” he said.  Because of that, he got to plan the June 24 event. 

“I had it up in the Honors College (at Pitt) in the Cathedral of Learning with family and friends and mentors,” he said. 

The woman who commissioned Tomaszewski, Cmdr. Kristin Shepherd, has served with the Navy for 17 years and is the Commanding Officer of Navy Talent and Acquisition Group Pittsburgh. She said most members of the Navy are recruited and enlist right out of high school.

“Mr. Tomaszewski is in the minority,” she said. “(Most) individuals decide to join the military within a few years of graduating high school or graduating college.”

He is far more qualified, more intelligent, and better equipped to be an officer than I was or even am today. Despite the rank difference, I look up to him.

— Lt. Kyle Coia

Tomaszewski’s recruiter for the Navy, Lt. Kyle Coia, serves in the Navy Reserve Recruiting Command Site Pittsburgh and recruits working professionals for the Navy Reserve. He first worked virtually with Tomaszewski to complete the application process. 

“I didn’t meet him in person until after he was selected and we drove to Mechanicsburg to pick up his uniforms,” Coia said. Tomaszewski’s work toward a Ph.D., his professional work experience, and his work as a principal helped separate Tomaszewski from the other candidates, Coia said. 

“He scored two perfect scores on his interviews and had glowing recommendations, which I believe also beefed up his application,” Coia said. 

Even though Coia’s job was to help Tomaszewski join the Navy, Coia himself was influenced by Tomaszewski.

“As much as I tried to mentor and guide Mr. Tomaszewski, he did the same for me,” Coia said. “He is far more qualified, more intelligent, and better equipped to be an officer than I was or even am today. Despite the rank difference, I look up to him.”

Tomaszewski is currently an ensign, the lowest officer rank. After about 18 months, he will be promoted to a rank called lieutenant junior grade, and after another 18 months, he will become a full lieutenant. These are known as statutory promotions because they automatically happen.

But going from lieutenant to lieutenant commander, the next rank, is competitive, Tomaszewski said. Only about 60 percent of lieutenants become lieutenant commanders.

Tomaszewski will have to attend Officer Development School, a five-week program that introduces new officers to the history, culture, and expectations of the Navy, within the first year of his Commission. He is hoping to do two weeks of it in the spring, and the other three weeks in the summer. 

Tomaszewski began drilling at Naval Reserve Center Pittsburgh in September. These are not the stereotypical military marching drills; instead, he will participate in leadership classes, do paperwork, and get acquainted with new Naval policies, among other tasks.

Tomaszewski will drill out of Pittsburgh, at the Navy Base at the Pittsburgh International Airport. He will also have to spend some weekends in either Millington, Tenn., or Washington, D.C. These locations have human resources headquarters. 

“My Reserve commitment is just a weekend every month and two weeks during the year,” he said. However, having joined the military, he knows that he could be mobilized at any time.

“I recognize that I could be called to serve in any capacity. They could send me to combat training and I could become a combat officer,” he said. “That is part of the commitment. It’s certainly a looming possibility.”

Tomaszewski said that while his time involved in his commissioning has impacted his family, they have been fully supportive.

He and his husband “have an incredible support system,” he said. “Our moms both live about five minutes away from us, so we don’t have to rely on daycare” for their infant daughter, Gwendolyn. 

Tomaszewski and his husband had begun financially preparing for surrogacy over a decade before starting the actual process. During the 2020-21 school year, they began the process to match with a carrier, and after another year, they found an egg donor. 

Their first embryo transfer was attempted in February 2022 and was unsuccessful. Another transfer in June 2022 was successful, though, resulting in baby Gwendolyn.  

Tomaszewski and his husband were in constant contact with their carrier throughout the pregnancy. 

“We made sure to be at all of the ultrasound appointments, and I even recorded myself reading children’s books that our carrier would play for Gwendolyn in utero,” he said.

Gwendolyn is now seven months old. 

“It’s amazing to watch her make developmental milestones,” he said. “She’s beginning to sit up and play with toys by herself. She is super vocal and likes to babble and talk all the time.”

Meanwhile, Tomaszewski is also working toward completing his Ph.D. Right now, he has completed all of his coursework and has been admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. 

“My dissertation research focuses on how National Board certification impacts teachers’ professional identities and their ability to shape society’s view of the teaching occupation,” he said. 

Tomaszewski said he has found a balance between work commitments, family time, and hobbies, and encourages others to do the same. 

“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to pour love into everything I do, and through that to continue to discover new things about myself and the world in the process,” he said. “We, as humans, are all capable of so much. We just need to find what we love, and to do it.”

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Evelyn Esek
Evelyn Esek, News Editor
News Editor Evelyn Esek is a senior and a third-year member of the Purbalite. She is in the BHS color guard and loves knitting and crocheting, collecting vinyl records, and listening to music.
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  • P

    PhilOct 3, 2023 at 8:04 pm

    Great article! Go Navy!

    • B

      Barron W. WheelerOct 23, 2023 at 1:34 am

      Great family !!!
      Good luck …