Hobby turns into career

Brennan Sweeney ('97) enjoys the art of aviation
By Hali Chiet ('07)

What started as a hobby turned into a career for Lt. Brennan Sweeney ('97). Sweeney graduated with a B.B.A. in computer information systems and is currently a flight instructor at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

"Hooked" on flying

After graduation, Sweeney took a cross-country bicycle ride with fellow JMU swim team members and developed an interest in flying. "I saw planes flying in and out of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and decided to take up flying as a hobby," he says. "As soon as I had my first few lessons, I was hooked."

View of Mount Fuji, F-18 Hornet

Brennan Sweeney ('97) flies a F-18 Hornet over Mount Fuji.

When that trip ended, Sweeney returned to his hometown, Arlington, and coached swimming for about a year.

Career in Navy

He joined the Navy in October 1998 and completed his 13-week commissioning program at the Naval Aviation Schools Command Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla. He completed his flight training and got his first opportunity to fly for the Navy in Corpus Christi, Texas. Sweeney spent about eight months in Texas learning to fly a propeller plane; he trained to fly jets in Meridian, Miss. In March 2001, he was stationed in Virginia Beach where he learned to fly the F-18 Hornet, and that's the plane he's been flying ever since.

With his training complete, Sweeney went to Japan in 2002. During this tour of duty, he and his squadron deployed with the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk to Australia, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. Then, in January 2003, he was sent to the Persian Gulf for the first few months of the Iraq war.

"Getting calls for air support was most rewarding when you could help," Sweeney says, "but it was really difficult to deal with when it was out of reach or when circumstances came up where we didn't have enough fuel to get there."

Navy afforded opportunity to explore Japanese culture

Sweeney says he was busy with his Navy duties but was also fortunate enough to find some time to explore Japanese culture. "The food, sightseeing, the people and trying to learn Japanese were all great experiences," he says. While he did enjoy his time abroad, he says it was hard being away from his friends and family, including his three siblings Phil, ('94), Bridget ('01) and Caitlin ('06) all JMU alums.

In October 2005, Sweeney returned to San Diego where he is currently an instructor pilot at the F/A-18 Hornet training squadron. Sweeney teaches young Marine and Navy fighter pilots the art of naval aviation. "I enjoy flying the airplane, but I also enjoy the instructional part of it now. It's a nice change."

"... my experiences at JMU gave me the maturity and the self-confidence I needed ..."

JMU offered good preparation for future

Sweeney says that academics and involvement on the swim team helped prepare him for his future. "All of my experiences at JMU gave me the maturity and the self-confidence I needed to get through training and my day-to-day experiences."

Sweeney was on campus in May 2006 for his sister Caitlin's graduation. "The campus has certainly grown, but I think it's maintained its close-knit community feel," he says. "I will always look back fondly on JMU."