Beyond the Horizon: A Leading Chief Petty Officer's Voyage Toward a New Career in Geology

From her backyard in upstate New York, a little girl built a collection of rocks, stashing them away in her toybox as if they were treasure. Bonnie Flynn’s rock collection served to set her on a journey of discovery. 

“I was fascinated by how the world around me worked,” she said. “Little did I know I was collecting some of the oldest metamorphic rocks in the country, formed during the Grenville orogeny, the mountain building event that gave rise to the famous Adirondack Mountains.”

When she started college, Flynn originally studied marine science until she took a marine geology class. “Before that course, I had never considered geology as a focus for my studies. However, after a few semesters of college it became clear to me that I needed to gain more focus and self-discipline, so I decided to join the United States Navy.”

It was then that Flynn embarked on her impressive military career, including 10 years of honorable Naval service. Serving under a U.S. Commander, Flynn was Third Fleet’s leading chief petty officer for Current Operations and was one of two enlisted qualified Fleet Watch officers. Her responsibilities included leading and training a team of 40 junior sailors in the successful execution of numerous naval and joint coalition evolutions, including Rim of the Pacific and maritime homeland defense, while ensuring command and control of 400 aircraft, 80 ships, 25 submarines, five carrier strike groups and four amphibious ready groups over a geographic area encompassing 30 million square miles. 

Flynn was stationed on the USS Ronald Reagan from 2006-11. While onboard she served as lead tactical data coordinator, combat systems training team leader, combat systems training team evaluator, lead administrative petty officer, lead sea combat air controller and command lookout coordinator. She completed three, six-month deployments and three, three-month surges in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. 

After 2011, Flynn was stationed at Naval Base San Diego, Emergency Operations Center (EOC), during one of her tours on active duty. “It was at the EOC that I was able to work with local San Diego emergency response teams and the United States Geological Survey on citywide drills that simulated large earthquake and flooding events” she said. “These drills only deepened my interests in geology and the earth processes that affect cities and their populations.” 

Flynn received honors and recognition during her service, including the Military Outstanding Volunteer Award, Naval Base Point Loma Sexual Assault Victim Advocate of the Year 2014, Certificate of Appreciation from the National City Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club of San Diego Military Guest of the Month, Commander U.S. Third Fleet Senior Sailor of the Quarter, Fleet Support/Emergency Operations Center Division Sailor of the Month, Tactical Data Link Coordinator and Center for Surface Combat Systems Honor Graduate.

Experiences in the Navy influenced Flynn’s decision to continue her pursuit of an undergraduate degree in geology, and upon her honorable discharge, she enrolled in the geological sciences program at San Diego State University (SDSU). Flynn has since entered the graduate program at SDSU and plans to apply for a commission with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) upon obtaining her master’s degree.

“Not only will a commission in the NOAA Corp afford me the opportunity to finish my time in service,” she said, “but it will also allow me to utilize my degree in geology. While working for NOAA, I would like to pursue my Ph.D. in geology and eventually conduct research for the U.S. Geological Survey.”

An avid volunteer, Flynn accumulated over 500 volunteer hours with San Diego Coast Keeper, Father Joe’s Villages, Meals on Wheels, Ronald McDonald House, Adopt a Highway, San Diego YMCA, Veteran’s Home of Chula Vista, Partnership in Education, Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter and as a Navy sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate. 

Flynn is a member of several student associations, including SDSU’s AAPG Student Chapter, Associated Geology Students (AGS) and the Geological Society of America. She is also the vice president of the Association for Women Geoscientists. She recently worked with “Show Me Geology,” a joint outreach program with SDSU's geology department and AGS, for underprivileged schools – grades K-8. 

Flynn credits AAPG with assisting her in a new career. “My AAPG membership has helped me in a number of ways” she said. “AAPG’s generous scholarships and grants have helped me be successful as both an undergraduate and graduate student. I am able to stay on top of the latest research and news in various fields of geology, keeping me a sharp and competitive early professional. I have also benefited from AAPG’s career center as well as their events. AAPG is extremely helpful for both students and early professionals, but they also provide unparalleled assistance to veterans that are aspiring to be geologists.”

After receiving her MVSP scholarship award last year, Flynn now encourages other military veterans pursuing undergraduate degrees in geoscience to put in an application. “I am not sure why any veteran would give up the opportunity to apply for the Deana and Paul Strunk Military Veterans Scholarship Program,” she said. “If you are thinking of applying, please do. You have nothing to lose.”

You are eligible for a MVSP scholarship, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 if you are a military veteran who has been honorably discharged, an active United States Military service member (including National Guard and Reserve) and pursuing an undergraduate degree in a field of geoscience at an accredited two- or four-year college or university, full time or part time.

To learn more about the Deana and Paul Strunk Military Veterans Scholarship Program, visit the AAPG Foundation. Follow Military Veteran Scholarship Program updates on social media: #MVSP2019.

Questions? Email a Programs Coordinator.

Application deadline is May 1, 2019.

Requirements and Guidelines