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Setting sail for Naval Academy as path to Marine Corps

Warrior history influences the path of Charlotte Brailsford

By Emily Havener

Charlotte has volunteered more than 500 hours at Patriots Point, where she speaks to groups like this one from Rutherford County, N.C.

For some, being the seventh great-granddaughter of William Moultrie might be considered laurels upon which to rest for a lifetime. For Charlotte Brailsford, who is wrapping up her knob year at the Citadel and will be transferring to the Naval Academy in the fall, it’s hardly even the beginning.

“We all come from somewhere,” she says with deference. “It’s definitely nice to have the history and it makes you appreciate the history more. But we’re all related to somebody somehow.”

It has been Charlotte’s goal to join the Marine Corps for as long as she can remember, a dream inspired by her many role models and mentors, among them Col. Myron Harrington, USMC, a close family friend and Navy Cross recipient for his valor in Vietnam.

“His humbleness and his selflessness have always inspired me to be part of the military and serve my country,” Charlotte says. “I see the Marine Corps as the best of the best.” Her goal is to serve in the corps as a combat engineer and afterward return to the Charleston area, where she’s grown up, and possibly teach at the Citadel.

Every choice she has made since her freshman year of high school has been to gain acceptance into the Naval Academy. Overall her favorite aspect of her entire journey has been the many different people she’s met and the things she’s learned from hearing their stories. She mentions another mentor, the commandant of cadets at the Citadel, Capt. Eugene “Geno” Paluso. “He’s really inspired me. Some of my high school teachers were telling me that I shouldn’t go into the military, and I asked him, ‘What do you think about this?’” She says his response was the best advice she’s ever received: “Tell them to eff off.”

In her goal setting and dedication, Charlotte demonstrates a maturity and focus that belies her youth, as well as a willingness to listen and learn from those who have achieved the things she is pursuing. It’s evidence of a humility she says many of her role models have.

“It’s never been about me. I don’t feel like these are my accomplishments. This is from the help of my whole family, my team — I call it a team. I feel forever grateful for all these people. I could make a list that goes on and on.”

Charlotte graduated in May 2020 from Bishop England High School, and although COVID-19 interrupted the final semester of her senior year, it didn’t stop her from participating in multiple summer programs, including Girls State, the Naval Academy’s Summer Seminar and S.C. Business Week at Darla Moore School of Business.

She’s also been volunteering at Patriots Point, where she met other veterans who inspired her with their passion for the military. Admiral James Flatley (USNA Class of 1956) became a close friend when he found out she was interested in the Naval Academy and has helped her through the process of applying. He himself received a presidential appointment to attend the academy, and he assisted Charlotte with receiving her congressional nomination, something every applicant must procure, from Sen. Tim Scott.

“He gives me a lot of wisdom and advice, and I think I give him a hope for future generations,” Charlotte says.

In Citadel dress, holding her USNA appointment letter, with Adm. James Flatley III in front of the display of his father, V. Adm. James Flatley, Jr. (USNA class of 1929).

Adm. Flatley ran the Yorktown for seven years and started the volunteer program. “I’m delighted when young people show up to volunteer,” he told us. He described Charlotte as having “wonderful personality and energy” and said of her acceptance to the academy, “She’s done it all by herself, let there be no question, with a lot of family support and blue and gold officer support.” These volunteers are affiliated with the Naval Academy and offer assistance to academy applicants.

When her initial application to the Naval Academy was turned down, she chose to attend The Citadel. She spent her first semester with a punishing schedule of 20 credit hours in civil engineering. Despite the challenge, she earned a 4.0 and received the Dean’s List and Gold Stars academic honors. She was also granted a President’s List citation, an award presented to cadets who give the most to their company and go above and beyond their required duties.

“The Citadel is a great place,” Charlotte says. “All the professors really care; they really want to see you succeed.” She explains the mindset behind the inspections and the focus on perfection, which can seem tedious but serves a higher purpose: “If you can do the little details, you can do the big things.”

Then the Naval Academy asked her to reapply to the class of 2025. During the holiday break, she retook the SAT and increased her score from 1280 to a whopping 1410. This clinched her acceptance, and she will be transferring in the fall. She’s excited about living in a new town and “experiencing something completely different.”

This is also part of the appeal of service in the military. She is looking forward to the summer programs the Naval Academy offers, which will afford her the opportunity to travel the world and try out different branches of the Navy.

Meanwhile, her motivation and dedication to training has only increased; this semester she is the sole woman participating in a weekly Navy Seal workout, which focuses on swimming, something she acknowledges is one of her weaker areas.

“I sometimes look like I’m drowning,” she says with self-deprecating humor, after describing a punishing workout that involves multiple hundred-meter swimming drills followed by the usual pull-ups, push-ups and other exercises. The goal of the swimming is not only endurance but also technique — namely, keeping her head low enough in the water to protect her from shooters.

“I was trying to get the breathing right and my head kept going up too high in the water. And [Capt. Paluso] told me, ‘If this was the actual military and you were trying to hide from the enemy, you would get shot right now.’ He was kind of joking about it, and I thought it was funny. I was like, ‘OK, yeah, you’re probably right.’”

Humor is clearly a lens though which Charlotte keeps her perspective. And although she says it hasn’t often come up, being a woman in the field is also something she has perspective on. In her Citadel company, Palmetto Badger, which is in charge of flag details, cannons and parades, she is one of only three female knobs. “Most of the workouts I do, it’s all guys. You can’t really compare yourself physically. I don’t really focus on my gender. I do realize sometimes that I’m in the minority, so it’s always good to be a role model. I always feel like you should have a mentor and be a mentor. Maybe I can inspire somebody younger to achieve what they want to do.”

Charlotte in the Captain's Chair of CV-10 Yorktown, 2008 (left) and at Palmetto Girls State, 2019 (right).

She’s doing this already, teaching karate to younger students at Master’s Studio of Mt. Pleasant, where she practices with Mike St. Amand. This is as much about relaxing and recharging as it is about training, however; she says it has improved her self-discipline and self-confidence, and she enjoys watching the younger students begin to grow and find themselves.

“Even my roommate at the Citadel asked me, ‘How do you have time to do all this stuff, how do you have this much energy?’” Charlotte says with a laugh.

Clearly hard work isn’t a deterrent to Charlotte, but she says COVID-19 did affect her knob year at The Citadel. There were no parades, and cadets had to wear masks even while undergoing intense physical training. They weren’t allowed to go into each other’s rooms, so freshmen especially struggled to meet and connect with other students. Charlotte says that this made things a lot harder mentally. “We’re always on Zoom classes; you’re in your room a lot more. They talk about how you really get close to your classmates, but we didn’t have that opportunity for the first three weeks.”

Another part of the challenge was maintaining her values while students were tempted to bend the rules due to the increased restrictions. Some cadets were sneaking into each other’s rooms, and they also targeted a cadet, who took a month of medical leave, when he returned. “Some of the other knobs in my company were trying to weed him out and get him to leave, so I had to stay true to my character and help him. That’s not something I’m going to do; I’m not going to weed somebody out just because he has a medical condition. He got in here; he deserves to stay.”

She says character is one of the essential values her parents instilled in her. “My parents taught me a lot about reputation. Your reputation, your character starts on your first day. If you lose your reputation, you can never gain that back.”

She and her parents take a family vacation to Edisto every year, usually in the summer. It is Charlotte’s favorite place, somewhere she can relax, have no agenda and sleep 12-13 hours a night. She enjoys the time with her parents as well, the chance to take away from the experiences they have instilled in her. “The biggest thing my dad taught me is that it’s not who you know or what you know but who knows you. My interpretation of that is, who knows your accomplishments, who knows what you’ve done, who can see your drive and motivation?

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Don’t turn away from the storm.’ It’s gonna come, so don’t avoid it, just go right on through it and keep pushing forward.”


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