Laurie Coffey ’95: From the Big Blue to the Big Blue Seas

After suffering a serious injury to her Achilles tendon, Laurie Coffey ’95 traded one uniform for another. She had trained with the U.S. Olympic rowing team for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was about to be recruited by the WNBA when she sustained the injury. Coffey enrolled in the Naval Academy in Annapolis after graduating from Phillips Academy and received training as a pilot. Now an F-18 pilot, Coffey flies the Strike Fighter Squadron 94 for the USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that was stationed in the Persian Gulf from May to November of 2005. Carrier, an upcoming PBS mini-series, features Coffey’s role on the USS Nimitiz aircraft carrier. According to PBS, the USS Nimitz, 24 stories high and three football fields long, carries over 5,000 Navy personnel and 85 military aircraft. Coffey is one of only a dozen core participants in the documentary. As a female minority and skilled pilot, her story was chosen to represent the fighter pilots aboard the USS Nimitz. “There are two different worlds [on the USS Nimitz]: the people who run the ship and the people that fly off the ship,” said Coffey. Coffey’s mission on the Strike Fighter Squadron 94, also known as “The Hoboes,” is to “intercept and destroy enemy aircraft in all weather conditions, establish and maintain air superiority and deliver ordinance in target, in time, first pass,” according to PBS. As a fighter pilot for the Navy, Coffey flies aircraft carriers all over the world. During her deployment in Iraq, she participated in 20 combat missions. When she is back in the U.S., she serves as a Navy flight instructor for Super Hornet Training Squadron at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. Coffey has been serving in the Navy as a pilot for eight years. Life on the USS Nimitz is a “high-stakes world of a nuclear aircraft carrier,” PBS said. “Of course, things could go terribly wrong. But at the same time, we’re extremely well-trained and prepared,” Coffey said. Coffey matriculated at Phillips Academy as a new Upper. She had first learned about the school when her roommate at rowing camp, an Andover student, encouraged her to apply after seeing her impressive basketball skills. After her acceptance into Phillips Academy, Phillips Exeter Academy, and St. Paul’s school, Coffey decided to join the Big Blue. At Phillips Academy, Coffey played for Varsity Basketball and rowed for Varsity Crew. In her brief two basketball seasons, she racked up an impressive 685 career points, becoming the second highest career scorer in Phillips Academy’s basketball history. In her 1995 season, Coffey scored a school record of 426 points. Though Coffey was accepted to Princeton and Cornell, Coffey enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis to pursue her interest in flying. “As a little kid, I always wanted to be an astronaut,” she said. “A friend of mine who graduated from Andover in ’94 went [to the Naval Academy]. That’s what got me initially interested,” Coffey continued. Coffey was extremely impressed upon visiting and thrilled at how different Annapolis was from anywhere else she was looking. In particular, she was attracted to the “physical program” and the very unique “challenge.” Her non sibi attitude also influenced her college choice and ultimately her career choice. “I wanted to serve my country… Serving others is a big message at Andover,” Coffey said. Once at the Naval Academy, Coffey was immediately drawn to aviation. Coffey said, “I’ve never met a pilot who didn’t enjoy what they did.” Looking back on her years at school, Coffey said Annapolis helped to form a huge part of who she is today, but that Andover was the place where Coffey built her foundation. Coffey said, “[The Phillips Academy] education is very well-rounded. It gives a good basis for whatever profession you go into.” She humorously added, “Everything after Andover is easy!” In a last word of advice, Coffey said, “Always keep your options open. Don’t be contained into one track. There are so many options and opportunities out there. Andover prepares you for anything.” “Carrier” will run from April 27 to May 1 from 9 – 11 p.m. on PBS.