Selfless: A Sailor’s Sacrifice for Family and Country

Finding the delicate equilibrium between being a parent and a Sailor is no easy task, especially when it involves spending months at a time away from family. In the latest episode of Faces of the Fleet, we tell the courageous story of FC2 Natalie Tardif, a mother-of-three who didn’t enlist in the Navy until she was 30 years old when her family’s strength was put to the test.

Raising a Sailor

From Navy child to Army wife to current Sailor, Natalie Tardif has experienced the military from all perspectives. Her stepfather was a Navy EOD Tech throughout her life. As a child, she couldn’t understand his long absences from home and why deployments mattered. As time passed, Natalie began to realize his contribution was important not only to her family, but to her country. She recounts a strict childhood that at times felt unfair, but as she matured into her teenage years, it dawned upon her that she was acquiring discipline, responsibility and resilience – all important life skills which she’d need for the next chapter of her life: motherhood.

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Fast-forward to her twenties: Natalie found herself between a rock and a hard place. It was a decade which would be a rollercoaster ride for her and her husband, Ben. As a young dad, Ben, who had recently enlisted in the Army, was deployed on two difficult tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Natalie took care of her two young children at home, guiding them through their formative years of infancy. Thanks to the help of family and friends, who donated items such as children’s clothes, food and furniture, and to Ben’s pay-check each month, the Tardifs were able to get by. This was short-lived, as Ben was medically separated from the Army and forced to return home. Soon, everything they had dreamed of was thrown into jeopardy.

“We had about two months left in savings. After that, we had nothing.”

Decision Time

Natalie’s military career began almost as soon her husband’s ended. Recuperating at home, Ben was not ready to find a job in the civilian world. This left the Tardifs with only enough money saved up to last them two months. After that, there was nothing. Unsure of how to help her family, Natalie turned to her mother for advice.

“Well, why don’t you try joining the Navy?” her mother asked.

To Natalie, the notion of joining the Navy at age 30 seemed unrealistic – perhaps as far fetched an idea as she’d ever dreamed. After all, she now had three children and a husband who desperately needed her support. She assured her mother that she was too old and too out of shape for military standards, and she still recalled her distaste for her stepfather’s frequent absences during her youth. However, the circumstances burdening her family forced her to take action. She applied for a plethora of jobs in the civilian world, but no realistic career choice was hiring. She was either not qualified or the jobs that would take her didn’t include health benefits. As a mother of three, that wasn’t going to cut it.

After many sleepless nights, Natalie eventually sat down with her husband and told him about the conversation she recently had with her mother. Natalie and Ben talked for hours, realizing a career in the Navy, might be their saving grace.

Natalie headed down to the local recruiting station, convinced there was no way a recruiter would take her seriously.

How wrong she was.

“When you don’t have any choices, and you don’t have any options, and you’re guaranteed a job and a paycheck, and medical benefits, things that we don’t have… then that’s an opportunity.”

“Well that didn’t go like I thought it would,” Natalie thought to herself as she walked out of her recruiter’s office.

To her surprise, the recruiter saw no issue with Natalie’s age and encouraged her to take the ASVAB, the test taken by everyone interested in joining the Navy. An ASVAB score is used to assess a potential recruit’s readiness to enlist, while determining the type of Navy jobs available to them. Upon completing her ASVAB, Natalie was shocked by how much she knew, and in turn how well she scored. Based on her test results, Natalie was offered a variety of positions based on her qualifications. The recruiter mentioned an opportunity in the Advanced Electronics in the Computer Field. While Natalie admitted to her lack of capabilities in regards to computers, she saw the position as a chance to improve herself and her abilities; an opportunity to write a new chapter in her life while providing for her family.

After graduating bootcamp and A-school, Natalie became a Fire Controlman (FC), in charge of firing and maintaining the Close-In Weapon System, or CIWS. This in itself was a remarkable feat. Becoming an FC is one of the most competitive ranks in the Navy; of those that make it into the ACEF field, only one Sailor is chosen out of every class. The standards for recruits are therefore very high. Prospects considering this job will need a combination of maturity and responsibility, in addition to having technical skill and expertise.

 

“I am not a tech person by any means. I have a hard time with computers! So sure, why not learn something where I can get a little bit more knowledge and in-depth thinking on? I walked in my first day for CIWS and when I saw it, I was like, that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in life up until now.” 

Getting Her Sea Legs

The first few months aboard the ship were especially hard for Natalie, who had been at home to witness the formative stages of her children’s lives. On deployment, she found herself thousands of miles away from home.

To her surprise, she found an entirely new family on-board the ships she went underway with, like the USS Momsen; many of these Sailors were going through their own hardships being away from loved ones. It was here that she found the inner strength to keep pushing and see out those most difficult moments. Her colleagues soon became friends she could lean on. Whether it be banter at the lunch table or needing a shoulder to cry on, Natalie’s Navy family were her rock.

The most heartwarming moments were when the ship would pull into a port and she could video chat with her husband and three adoring kids. Hearing about their progress in school, new friends they’d made, along with Ben’s progress; it filled her heart with joy.

“The greatest feeling is probably the night before you actually pull in. You’re so excited because you get to go home and everything, but at the same time, it’s almost terrifying because you’re just like, what’s gonna be there when I get home? Are they gonna be happy? Are they gonna be sad? Are they gonna be upset?” Natalie recalled.

Though her children prefer her to be home, they now understand and appreciate the sacrifice their mother makes for them. Natalie may be away for long stretches of time, but the Tardif kids know that she is doing it all for them- to put food on their plate and clothes on their backs. Though Natalie does miss her family every day, she finds consolation in how markedly special the time she does share with her children is.

“When I do see them [my family] I’m just like, keep it together. Tell them you love them before your voice starts quivering so that they know you don’t get upset. I’m thinking I’m just so happy that I finally get to see you. It brings no greater joy, Natalie said, wiping away a tear.

“Mom, I don’t like it when you’re at work, but at least when you go, we can work on things. And when you get back, we can show you everything we do.”

A Life Changing Adventure

In these past few years, Natalie has overcome more challenges than most people ever will in a lifetime. Yet, through this rollercoaster ride she has found strength. Natalie is walking proof that there is always hope for those who strive for a better life. She is a devoted mother and wife on one side, and a defender of freedom on the other. Her work has taken her on adventures to every corner of the world. At each stop, she collects stories to share with her kids, who love hearing about her different expeditions in the Navy.

“It really bothers me when people seem to think that just because I’m a mom, that I can’t have this kind of job. It is very hard, don’t get me wrong, but its life-changing,” Natalie added.

Today, Natalie continues to work as a CIWS Fire Controlman, aboard a destroyer, protecting her country and providing for her family. Her story shows that while serving in the military demands an incredible amount of dedication, it doesn’t prevent servicemen and women from being devoted parents.

The Role of a Fire Controlman

Fire Controlman provide system employment recommendations; perform organizational and intermediate maintenance on digital computer equipment, subsystems, and systems; operate and maintain combat and weapons direction systems, surface to air and surface to surface missile systems, and gun fire control systems at the organizational and intermediate level.  They are expected to inspect, test, align, and repair micro/minicomputers and associated peripheral equipment, data conversion units, data display equipment, data link terminal equipment, print devices, and system related equipment; make analysis for detailed systems, computer programs, electronics, and electronic casualty control; operate associated built-in and external test equipment; load, initialize, and run preprogrammed diagnostics.  Fire Controlmen must also operate the Aegis Weapon System, which includes one of the most powerful air-search radars, deployed at sea around the world, the SPY-1, as well the MK99 Fire Control System, used for terminal guidance of Standard Missiles, and the Aegis Computer Suite. They run performance and testing routines for digital computer equipment, digital subsystems, digital systems, and overall combat systems. They manage and maintain the weapons used to ensure the safety of their family and all of the citizens who they serve and protect.

Visit Navy.com to watch other inspiring stories of Sailors.