Amanda Neff is finding more “water time” as a West Virginia University student than she has in her 13-plus years with the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves.
The senior from Clay, W.Va., is studying exercise physiology with an emphasis on aquatic therapy. Part of her coursework involves shadowing aquatic therapists.
“I can see myself going into aquatic rehab,” Neff said. “You hear people [recovering from injuries] in the water say, ‘I can’t do this on land.’ That’s rewarding as a student.”
You might think that with her Navy background, she’s already spent a chunk of her life in and on the water. But she never worked on a ship.
“My Navy experience is different,” she said. “The aircraft I’ve worked on are too big for a ship.”
So much for civilian assumptions of the military.
Neff, a petty officer first class, is an aviation electrician. While on active duty, she repaired aircraft used for anti-submarine warfare and battlespace surveillance.
She joked that the “AE” abbreviation for “aviation electrician” really stands for “aviation everything.”
“If there’s a problem with the aircraft, they call us,” she said.
Neff’s job has evolved over the years along with military technology. Now, as a member of the Navy Reserves, she focuses on unmanned aircraft systems – drones.
“Now I fly from a computer with three monitors, two keyboards and two mice,” Neff said.
Neff wanted to join the military even though she had the West Virginia Promise Scholarship.
“I was against going to college after high school,” Neff said. “Growing up, my dad always said, ‘You need to join the military. There’s nothing here for you. Get out of here.’ I said, ‘OK, dad.’ So that’s what happened.”
Her Navy career took her on four deployments: Qatar and Djibouti, Qatar, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
In Afghanistan, she worked with the Navy’s Female Engagement Team, a program composed of female sailors who would develop trust-based relationships with Afghan women encountered on patrols. Due to cultural norms in some Muslim countries, male troops are prohibited from interacting with women. So women in the military took on those roles.
“We were there to bridge the cultural gap,” Neff said. “I was proud to be part of that, to build trust with the Afghan women and to help the mission of the Navy.”
Neff left active duty in 2012 and enlisted in the Reserves. She had deferred her Promise Scholarship for seven years and the deadline was approaching.
It was time to go to school. She enrolled at WVU Tech as a biology student and even ran cross country for the Golden Bears.
Then she was called up by the Reserves for a year.
Then she went back to school for a semester.
Then the Reserves called her up for another year.
Then it was back to school for semester.
Then she went on military orders for three years.
Now she’s finally wrapping up her final year of college (hopefully without interruption) at WVU in Morgantown.
“I’ve been recalled three times since joining the Reserves,” she said. “I haven’t gone to school consistently, and it’s been tough to transition.”
When Neff came to WVU in the fall of 2017, she had forgotten so much after a three-year detour from academics that she failed an organic chemistry class.
“I wasn’t ready to come back,” she said. “It was a disaster. I knew I couldn’t be successful in biology anymore.”
So she found a field she could excel at – exercise physiology.
The major switch came during an early morning workout at the Student Rec Center. Neff struck up a conversation with another woman in the locker room. Neff talked about her on-again, off-again status as a student and revealed to the woman what she really wanted to accomplish with a college degree.
That woman was Lori Sherlock, associate professor and aquatic therapy coordinator for the exercise physiology program.
“She asked, ‘Have you thought about ex phys?’” Neff said. “She said I should look into it. She was right, and I transferred.”
As for the Navy Reserves, Neff is staying put.
“I’ve got six-and-a-half years left in the Reserves and I’m going to stick with it,” she said. “I’ll be 37 when I can retire.”
Then she can have all the water time she wants.