▶️ From Ships to the Classroom: Navy Veteran Lands in La Pine to Teach

For the last two decades, now retired Commander Thomas Keefer proudly served in the U.S. Navy.

It’s a path he says he was destined for.

“My dad was a career Naval officer and my dad was a WWII veteran so it was a natural path for me to join the Navy,” Keefer said. “So I went to the Naval Academy, graduated in 1997 and started my career on ships in San Diego.”

During his long career, Keefer also worked with everyone from oceanographers and meteorologists, to NATO.

It was during a NATO assignment that he first heard about Central Oregon.

“I worked with a group from Redmond during that NATO assignment and they’d told me how wonderful it was living in Central Oregon and so that gradually went to the top of the list of places to retire to after the Navy,” he said.

Just a few weeks ago, a position opened up in the region Keefer had so looked forward to moving to, and it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

So after 23 years, Keefer retired from his position in the Navy, to become the Senior Naval Science Instructor for the La Pine High School Junior ROTC program.

“I really enjoyed giving back to the community wherever we are, so I was a scout leader before and it just seemed natural to find a way to continue to contribute to the community around me and I thought that teaching would be the best way to do that,” Keefer said. “When I talked to the district here they were very welcoming and said, ‘Well we have an opportunity for you in the Bend La Pine School District.'”

Funded by the Navy and Bend-La Pine Schools, Keefer says the primary focus of the JROTC is shaping the future of their students.

“The purpose of the program is to help kids find their path as a model citizen in the community…we have a four year curriculum that teaches students who to become cadets, to participate first as fowlers in the program, following the leadership of the upper class cadets and then as they progress through the four year program they’ll assume leadership roles and guide the path of the incoming newer cadets,” he said. “We have an academic program and we also have a competition program where they participate in a variety of disciplines. And then we also have an orientation visit program in the summer where the cadets will be able to go and do leadership academies and visit navy assets, and Coast Guard assets, Marine Corp. assets.”

While the program does present students with options for someday joining a branch of the military, Keefer says it’s far from being just about recruitment.

“My goal having been on the receiving end of a high school graduates in my Naval career as young sailors was to help them chart their way in life, it’s not to get them into the military necessarily or to go on any one particular path but it’s just to help them understand that what they’re doing in high school will set the tone for the rest of their life.”

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