Proud to serve, then and now: one of our own reflects on her time in the military.

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November 5th, 2021

This year for Veterans Day, I thought I’d reflect on my veteran “status.” It’s been a very long time since then, but my memories still make me smile and feel proud that I served. It’s a calling that very few have experienced, one that I hope many people cherish the way that I do.

Not all veterans have a good experience, and many leave service with visible and invisible injuries – some of which take a lifetime to recover from. Fortunately, I never saw combat and walked away on my terms. Being a member of the military helped mold me into the person I am today. I believe it established the foundation for a lifetime of service for trying to make this a better world.

When I was a freshman in high school, I made the decision to enlist in the U.S. Navy instead of going to college. Over the next three years, I never wavered on that decision and can still say it was one of the best I ever made in my life.

When I enlisted, there were more members of the military — roughly 1% of U.S. citizens served (now it’s less than .5%) and women made up about 10% of the sailors. Clearly the Navy was not for everyone, but it was perfect for me at the time.

Aerographer’s Mate insignia

I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test in high school to help determine what Navy job I would be best suited for. I don’t remember all my options, but I jumped at becoming an Aerographer’s Mate (AG). An AG is someone trained in meteorology and oceanography or simply put, I would be a “weather girl.” Three years later, I went off to boot camp while most of my high school friends went to college. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to leave home and start a new adventure.

Off I flew from Buffalo, NY to Orlando, FL for boot camp. I had to wait almost an entire week before 79 women showed up to form a full division. During that time, I wrote an essay and was selected to become one of four Section Leaders. I held that leadership role for the entire eight weeks of boot camp. I survived on fried rabbit and blueberry pie — not a diet I recommend, but those are the only two foods that tasted good!

My division on our last day at boot camp.

Upon graduating boot camp, I was sent to Chanute Air Force Base about two hours south of Chicago; it has since been decommissioned. There I would attend “A” school training with nine other members of the Army, Air Force, and Marines. We were a tight-knit, mismatched group of teenagers for four months of school — and we had fun drinking 3.2 beer (Illinois had some odd drinking-age requirements and if you were 18-20 you were allowed to drink low-alcohol beer).

I totally lucked out on my first assignment. I had a two-year tour in Bermuda! I used my aptitude for science and math to calculate weather patterns, analyze data, distribute forecasts to ships and squadrons, and provide accurate measures of air pressure, temperature, wind speed and sea state. I plotted weather maps and got pretty good at estimating the base of clouds and recording visibility. My work schedule was two 12-hour shifts on, two off and then rotated to nights — it made for interesting sleep patterns but loved the flexibility with my time.

I served another three years in Virginia Beach and decided at the end of my contract to leave the Navy. I was ready to start something new and knew I was not a “lifer.”

When I got out of the military, I really had no skills that transferred to civilian life. I answered an ad in the newspaper for an admin at an advertising agency. I said a prayer and crossed my fingers that military service would be good enough to get a job. The woman that interviewed me offered me the job on the spot. That job led me to a career that I have enjoyed and still find rewarding.

Times have certainly changed since I entered the workforce, but I hope that anyone interviewing a service member today will give them the chance someone gave me. Military service should always be an honorable choice for our young men and women. It gave me a foundation of independence and confidence, but also the perspective that we’ve got to have each other’s backs in order to survive and thrive.

Blog written by Barbara Johnson  |  Vice President of Client Services

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