Meet 2L Laurie Coffey, a U.S. Navy veteran who is drawing on her military experience as she navigates law school.

Sky High Ambitions

A second-year law student and Navy veteran draws on her military experience to inspire her legal future.

Any mention of the 2022 blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick brings a smile to the face of Laurie Coffey L’25, a second-year student at the Syracuse University College of Law. “I used to fly many of the routes in the movie,” says the retired U.S. Navy aviator. “Tom Cruise’s stunt pilot is a former Blue Angel, whom I’ve known for years. We went to flight school together.”

While Coffey’s military career is behind her, it still colors everything she does—from being a single parent to a full-time law student. “The Navy remains an important part of my life,” admits Coffey, who retired in 2019 as a highly decorated lieutenant commander. “It’s who I am.”

Numbers tell part of the story. Over a 20-year span, Coffey amassed more than 25 combat missions, 100 combat hours, 2,400 flight hours and 300 carrier landings (half of which were at night). She also was featured in the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary Carrier, while deployed on USS Nimitz during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Trained on the coveted F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, Coffey is Top Gun royalty. Ironic, considering that the term doesn’t stand for anything. “It’s a nickname for a naval aviation training program,” says Coffey, the recipient of a prestigious Air Medal for “heroic or meritorious achievement.”

What Hollywood rarely captures is all the training that goes into each flight. Coffey, who regularly flew six-hour missions, recalls that for every hour of flying there were four hours of planning and preparation. Each mission was then followed by a two-hour “debrief,” where the pilot analyzed anything that went wrong or not as planned.

“It’s exacting work,” admits the former flight instructor at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. “Because it’s impossible to know all there is about combat flying, you’re always training. You never truly arrive.”

Continue to the full story.