Getting to Know our Women Veterans: A Navy Veteran Interview

To honor and raise awareness of our women veterans we are asking them to complete our questionnaire to get to know those who served. Today we spotlight a woman veteran who joined the Navy in 1997. She answers our questions for our series of interviews.

State of Residence: New York

In what branch of the military did you serve? Navy

Year joined: 1997

Year separated/retired: 2006

Era of Service: Gulf War Era (1990 – Present)

Combat Theater: OEF

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, women make up nearly 11.6 percent of OEF/OIF/OND Veterans.

In what unit did you serve? VP-4 and HSL-48

Last Rank: E-5

What was your job title? Aviation Maintenance Administrationman (AZ)

Why did you join the military? I was 18 fresh out of high school. I come from a military family. I am used to moving around. I wasn’t ready for college. I wanted to serve my country and be on my own. The Navy taught me great work ethics. I had life insurance. I had my health covered…all those benefits. I originally wanted to retire from the Navy because my dad retired from the AF. My stepfather also retired from the service. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

What was your favorite assignment and why? I was stationed in Hawaii. That was my first duty station. I was so young, carefree, and enjoying my life while learning my role in the Navy. I did three tours, twice in the Middle East and once in Japan. Everything was new to me.

What is your favorite memory while in the service? The togetherness, unity, friendships and bonds formed among the men and women beside me. We had our ups and downs, arguments, fights, but we were like family. I loved how closely knit we all were during deployment. We always had each other’s backs, even today, for the ones whom i remain in contact with. And for the ones i lost, may they forever R. I. P.

Was it difficult for you to transition back to civilian life? If so, in what ways? Yes. In many ways. Not being able to find a job that paid more than minimum wage. Having to start at the bottom with no room for promotion. No stability. Not happy. No real organization or teamwork. No real satisfaction. Not happy with work schedule. Not being able to afford daycare as a single mother.

Did the military influence your thinking and living after you were home? If so, how? Yes. I have a military mindset. I am really adamant about punctuality, professionalism, working diligently and to the best of my ability, working as a team member and not always letting somebody else do the work all by themselves. I don’t know how to explain living. I am not the same person that was 20 years ago or 11 years ago or 5 years ago.

What was your biggest challenge of returning to civilian life? Adapting to life period. I was used to a certain lifestyle of getting up at a certain time, putting on my uniform, reporting to work, being on duty every four days and once a month on a weekend, being ready for deployment, having that sense of purpose. Working in an environment where I was held accountable and reliable for everything that I did. Because I was on active duty for nine years, I was always priority, even at the medical clinic on base. Or if I took a MAC Flight. The other challenge was financial, having no guidance, falling into a huge depression, wondering what I was going to do, how I was going to get housed or pay my car note and all that. Mentally and emotionally, I was a mess.

Where did you find resources? The Vet Center and the VA Hospital. I started to see a mental therapist after I had a hypomanic state in 2008. I have been enrolled and seen at the VA hospital since 2006.

What do you wish would have been available to you for resources? In 2006, I didn’t understand TAPS class, a class mandatory for active duty getting ready to transition out. I didn’t get it. I didn’t have a plan because I was clueless. I figured that I would resume going to college then figure it out. But honestly, I didn’t know jobwise what I wanted to do. How could I know where I wanted to work when all I knew was the Navy? I was 18 years old when I joined and the military was my life for nine years. In 2006, I was in Jacksonville, FL and I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay there or migrate to Orlando, FL. Honestly, I was burned out because that transition phase wore me out. Mentally and emotionally, I was exhausted. Plus, I was a single mother and my daughter was ten months old when i got out. I think there should be veterans available on base on any military installation to better prepare service members. I think most of the time they talk about “jobs” in regards to a career. I think resumes need to be reinforced. Active duty service members transitioning should be able to spend more time on planning things out and getting the help they need. I didn’t have that. I was still required to come to work every day and do my job.

Are you the first woman in your family to serve? My twin sister and I served together. We both went to basic training together and were in the same division together. We also went to the same school, then we both had different orders which separated us afterward.

What would you tell another woman about to enlist? I encourage anyone to join the military, but to do their homework, to ask questions and to take their time before making a decision. I also tell them to rethink if they are offered an enlistment bonus. Everybody’s experience with the military is different. I know for me it was a great opportunity to leave home and become independent.

Do you use your Veteran Benefits? Yes

Marissa Harris Navy Veteran
If you would like to share your experience as a woman veteran, please click here to complete the questionnaire.

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