Pete Morse is pretty sure he wouldn't have listened had someone told him, back at age 18, what his future would hold.
One day he'd have a job that would take him around the world? But eventually that job would leave him wanting only to be back home again, ready to live a quiet life with his family in Albany? Not in this lifetime, buddy.
Except that's exactly what happened. After graduating from West Albany High School in 1987, with letters of recommendation from then-U.S. Rep. Denny Smith and Sen. Bob Packwood, Morse was accepted into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Now 47, Morse has spent most of his adult life as a Navy pilot and is still a member of the US Navy Reserve.
He switched to dentistry about three years ago and is now a partner with West Albany classmate Lane Harris at Elm Street Dental in Albany, but credits the Navy for bringing him where he is today.
"I still love the Navy. It's given me a lot of things in my life," he said. "But it's great to be home."
Joining the Naval Academy was something Morse thought about doing ever since his eighth-grade year at Memorial Middle School, where he learned about academy appointments from a guest speaker at an assembly.
"I liked the idea of service, too," he said. "I think that came from my grandfather (former Albany Mayor Platt Davis)."
Once at the academy, a career as a pilot appealed most to Morse. He had plenty of company — the Tom Cruise movie "Top Gun" had come out just the year before — but he was among those who made the grade.
He wrapped up a degree in mechanical engineering in four years, never taking fewer than 19 credits, then spent an eight-month break in San Diego in a management job for airplane mechanics before heading to flight school for two years.
He had another break after flight school, so he taught Reserve Officers' Training Corps classes at Oregon State University before receiving his flight assignment: pilot of a P-3 Orion.
He met the rest of his squadron — half in Misawa Air Force Base, Japan, half on a base in the central Indian Ocean — then spent six months in Hawaii before being moved to Whidbey Island in Washington.
Not even a decade had passed since graduation and Morse had already spent time in at least six states and two countries overseas. But that was just the start.
In his time as a Navy pilot, Morse has flown just about everywhere an atlas covers: Latin America, South Africa, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Africa, India, Guam, Singapore, Brunei, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, South Korea. He saw Hong Kong before China took over and was part of the first armed aircraft to visit Vietnam since the war.
Some of his jobs were reconnaissance missions. Others involved what's known as anti-submarine warfare. There was a little "fly high and identify" in the mix, too.
Some missions involved firing missiles, but Morse said he was lucky enough to be involved only in training, where the targets didn't involve people. "I got to play with all the toys, and no regrets."
Some things, he'll remember forever. Others, he'd rather forget.
One day, he remembers being in a marketplace that included a set of bleachers where a public court was taking place. A man had been accused of stealing. Once the five-minute "trial" was over — "No kidding, the trial was five minutes," he recalls — two guys grabbed the accused and led him to a machine that severed his hand. They then seared the stump to stop the bleeding.
"The smell — I'll never forget that," Morse said quietly. "There are things we just don't understand, growing up here."
Return to duty
Morse ended his time in the Navy in 2001, but only briefly. He was called back full time right after the attacks of Sept. 11.
After and his wife, Molly, married in 2003, he began to look for a career that would allow him to stay in one place and have a family. Family friends were dentists and appeared to be settled and doing well.
But he was still flying for the Navy even while going to dental school, and when he was selected to be a squadron commander, he decided it would be tough to do both. So Morse went back to globetrotting.
He rejoined the dental world in 2012, working in Silverton and Albany. Then classmate Lane Harris told him his father, also a dentist, had retired, and what did he think about working together?
These days, Morse has a picture on the wall of his office at Elm Street Dental, which Molly, his wife, took on his last day of flying. He's wearing his flight suit and his back is turned, walking way. Holding his hands and walking with him are his children, Wyatt and Paige, now 9 and 7.
While still in the Reserve, the photo sums up life now, and it's just the way Morse wants it. He can coach his son's teams, take his daughter to gymnastics, even arrange his schedule to pop over to their elementary school for an assembly now and then.
He came, he said, from a solid base, where his family and friends surrounded him at all times. It was something he was ready to put behind him for a while — but something he's now glad to get back.
"It's been nice," he said, "to be able to give my kids that."