I met Sarah when she was working in my little town as a teacher. I met her at a party when I was still drinking. Our first conversation consisted of me trying to convince her that she had to be older than me because I graduated in 2006 and she graduated in 2008—hello—6 is smaller than 8. I obviously felt like a complete moron when I sobered up. I did not want to see Sarah ever again! I was mortified over the way I had carried myself that evening.
Spray is a small town, so I inevitably ran into Sarah again. This is when I fell in love with this sweet girl. She was so cool and didn’t judge me at all. We laughed over my idiocy and there was no awkwardness. The more I go to know Sarah the more I looked up to her. Her attitude was inspirational. She was outgoing, she was a great friend and even though she was a positive person she wasn’t afraid so vocalize her disappointments or frustrations. She was honest. I felt like I could tell her anything even though we didn’t have shared experiences.
I was so sad to find that Sarah was going to move back to Pennsylvania. I still keep in contact with her and hope to visit her one of these days (as soon as possible)! I asked her to write this because I know she’s got a lot to tell and a way of speaking that really draws you in. She has the ability to help people—I know she helped me. I was so flattered and honored when she agreed to share this personal struggle and how she overcame it. This is a must read whether you are young or old; this girl as a great story and remarkable way about her.
Share Your Truth Project: Sarah’s story
“In 2009 I found myself in my second year of college, and not loving my career choice. I hadn’t known what I wanted to do in college—being a teacher seemed like it used a lot of skills that I already had. To enter the teaching profession I needed to decide and commit in my first semester. I felt rushed and unsure of ANY job I wanted to have in the future—but the Education classes were set up that I could continue my well paying civilian maintenance job on an Army supply base in Pennsylvania. My boss at the base was VERY cooperative with schooling, as the program was designed to hire college students under the condition that when they were no longer enrolled, employment would be terminated. I applied and got lucky! It was an ideal situation; I don’t think I would have been able to get though school without that job.
As I continued to take classes the thought of graduating and finding a job in a school district was terrifying me. I loved working on the base. I was free to make my own schedule, I was doing physical work, and making a decent amount of money to pay for school. At the base, I was working around a lot of veterans and current military members and found myself interested in joining the services. I talked to everyone I could about the different the branches of military service—the diversity of the people I’d meet, and traveling were just two of the immediate enticements of joining. I had other motivations as well, such as having a future career in government service,;maybe as a Park Ranger. I was getting excited about the possibility that maybe I could have a successful long term career with the armed services. Joining the services had always been in the back of my mind, and at the forefront of some of my studies. I was finishing my duel History-Education degree and figured if I just spent so much time LEARNING about other’s military accomplishments throughout history; why not try it out myself?
I began researching some possibilities. I discovered that I had too many credits to get involved in any of the college service programs like ROTC. You have to sign up for ROTC almost immediately upon enrolling in college. I met with a Navy recruiter and once recruiters realize you are interested they really start to hook you in. We spoke about ways that I could use my degree while in the services. He told me that with a degree I should skip enlisting and tryout for the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) program. Basically an SWO runs the ship, and the ultimate goal for many people in this program is to command their own ship. Researching all the different possibilities for SWO’s intrigued me. Maybe they would teach me a foreign language and set me up with a career in Naval intelligence—or maybe they would want me to be an engineer—or a supply clerk! I didn’t care what job I was going to have. It was going to be a good salary with a lot of opportunities to advance my career. I liked that they were going to dictate a clear path for me. It felt like I was getting a second chance at a career other than teaching. I had I felt so unsure of every educational decision I had made already, so it was thrilling that the Navy was going to dictate a few years of my life for me.
I studied for the ASVAB and other tests, just to see what would happen. I was still not exactly secure in this decision. It was more exciting than sending my teaching resume off to school districts. I wasn’t interested in working in one, and probably wouldn’t get hired quickly at one anyway. I was SO over school. Why did I ever decide to be a teacher?! I was really kicking myself for that decision.
When my ASVAB scores came back my recruiter was pretty impressed. I was surprised with myself; I have always been a good test taker and memorized information pretty well if I put my mind to it. In the fall of 2011 I began the two year process of applying to Officer Candidate School.
It took up two years because you needed to fill out endless amounts of paperwork. I was required to write an admission essay, take fitness tests, pass background checks, and gather medical paperwork from my entire life. My recruiter told me that it was pretty difficult to get into this program. I think he said that they would only take about 100 people a year. The class sizes were about 30 candidates, and not many were civilians. I did have some things in my favor: my test scores and GPA were high, I was a woman, and had generations of Naval history on my father’s side. My recruiter was surprised that I had almost nothing to put down under medical history, and didn’t seem worried at all that I was lacking in physical fitness credentials. My recruiter was really optimistic that I would be selected…and I felt so too! While most kids in college were prepping for grad school, or preparing big career moves I was applying to an elite military program. I dumped my sweet natured boyfriend when he told me he didn’t want any part of military life.
My biggest worry was that I was NEVER an athletic person. I didn’t play any high school sports. I barely even took my gym classes! My friends knew me as clumsy and I had definitely been picked almost last in elementary gym classes before. In college I contacted my advisors and eventually weaseled my way into a Nutrition class—just so I wouldn’t have to work out. I do participate in just about every physical outdoor activity, so I stayed semi-fit but honestly I was always a bit chubby. I looked at the physical fitness documents and with help from my recruiter we started a workout plan. The entire time I was working out I was building my future life with the Navy in my head. Where would I get stationed? What job would I have? Who would I meet? It was really exciting prospect and taught me a lot about what I wanted for myself in the future. I realized some of my goals and also realized how hard I willing to work to make them possible. I treated training as my second job, sometimes spending HOURS at the gym. There was also motivation in the idea that IF I could just do this run—push up—curl- –whatever, I could have a high paying and respected career.
I was running at least 5 miles a day, sometime 10 or more. I was working out during my breaks at the base. I was going to the gym or for runs in between my classes. I would do sit ups and pushups in between my homework assignments. It really took over my life at this point, and as my dreaded final semester of student teaching approached I was able walk into the High School building daily knowing I had other “BETTER” plans for my career. I don’t like to admit it, but I really focused more on my Navy training then on my final semester of college.
I lost about 50lbs and became extremely fit, for the first time in my life! I could barley believe how successful the physical fittness training was going. My recruiter communicated with me, just about daily , during the weekdays. He would even work out with me and helped me start getting in the mindset for boot camp— how I should eat, sleep, and act. I started memorizing information I would need for Officer training, reciting information like the Navy General Orders line for line as I drove to school or work. In a way I was putting myself though my own version of boot camp to be prepared for Officer Candidate School. All that was left was to hear back from the Navy selection board on if I was accepted. It was so nerve wracking, but I had a good feeling about it.
On my 23rd birthday I was student teaching a 7th grade class. My phone rang and it was my recruiter. My co-teacher knew I was waiting to hear back from him and allowed me to take the call in the hallway. My recruiter knew my schedule, and normally wouldn’t call me while I was in school. I immediately knew something was up. He told me I had been accepted and he had waited until my birthday to tell me! I was stunned with happiness and the realization that my hard work had paid off. My life was GOING to change forever. I told my co-teacher what happened and burst into happy tears. He explained it to the 7th grade class and the kids cheered and clapped for me as tears streamed down my face. It is still one of the most astounding moments of my life. I felt like I was in a movie, or had just won a grand prize. I began to “check-out” of student teacher, prepping for my naval career – my boot camp date was just 3 MONTHS AWAY! I decided not to walk at my graduation. It seemed like a lot of hassle for something I was glad to be done with. “And besides,” -I thought to myself, “I will be walking out naval school in a perfectly pressed white dress uniform as an Officer by the end of the year!”
The political climate in our country was growing uneasy. The daily news was about the budget sequestration that had started on January 1st, 2013. Basically sequestration was a result of the Budget Control Act, passed in 2011. This act was set to lower government spending by about 1.1 trillion dollars over 8 years. Spending money on wars, military training, and national defense was lowered by 10% overall in 2013. It had its purposes, may have even created some jobs, and definitely improved the United States economy. My recruiter had talked about this with me and explained that my boot camp date might be a little “-iffy” because of the spending cuts — buttold me “not to worry, keep focused on training!”
About a month after my acceptance on, April 3rd, my recruiter texted me that saying that he had bad news to share. I worried all day, my mind not at all on my student teaching AT ALL, and after school I rushed to call him from my truck. Was my boot camp dated pushed back? Did I need to fill out a ton more paperwork? Take days off for exams? It was worse than I had even expected… I had been disqualified. He seemed genuinely shocked and we both had so many questions: Why? What happened? Was this a final decision? I listened to his stories about other similar situations working out just fine. Through the course of our conversation he even seemed doubtful it was for real. He didn’t have too much information on my situation but promised me he was going to “fight it”. I was nervous wreck. We got final answers pretty quickly. By the next day I had paperwork signed by a Captain stating multiple medical reasons for the disqualification. I also now had an unheard of “medically unfit for service” designation. My unshakable recruiter seemed mad about this decision. I was numb. He explained that this made it so that I could not even try to do a basic enlistment with another branch of military service!
It didn’t make sense to me. I had no major surgeries, perfect eyesight and never even had a broken bone! All the medical paperwork I had submitted and signed consent for—they were able to access everything, including doctor’s handwritten notes that I have never even seen. I was suddenly “medically unfit” after getting into the best shape of my life!
Some of the “most serious” reasons they listed on the disqualification paperwork included “nevus removal” (a nevus is a birthmark) and “bilateral knee patella dislocation” (a patella is a knee cap). I don’t want to divulge all of my medial history because they basically listed everything I ever went to the doctor for in my 23 years of life as a reason on the paperwork. I find it hard to believe that Officers in ANY branch of the services have never seen a doctor before, and that going to doctors for routine ailments makes you unfit for service……
The birthmark I begrudgingly had removed about a year prior when my dermatologist begged me to take it off because it *might* turn cancerous. And my knee—two separate times in my teens I had dislocated my Patella. The Patella is held onto the knee by cartilage that does not hardern until a person is approximately 30 years old. These dislocations occurred once as a 13 year old at a bouncing around at a dance, and once again on my right knee when I was 16 and slipped while working fast food. Both times they healed up just fine with a brace, and the soreness was gone within a week. Typical tall girl growing pains! The naval board had seen the scrawled note from my doctor, a note that I didn’t even know of— he had used the word “chronic” to describe my patella dislocation. My recruiter suspected that this one word was enough for the Naval board to determine that I had “ongoing” knee issues and slap the DQ on me. The other reasons were just to fill up the paper and make it appear serious.
My recruiter said he never saw or heard of anything like that before. Previously he had men enlist or attend officer training who had multiple surgeries and even one that had pins and rods in his hands and arms! He seemed as confused at the situation as I was. He did make it clear that it was final, and that he couldn’t do anything more for me. I kept working out, but the seriousness was gone. I finished my student teaching in a miserable funk and I only told my co-teachers in the school about what was going on. They were supportive, and knew I was extremely upset. I felt robbed of what was supposed to be one of the happiest times in a person’s life—college graduation. I had missed all the deadlines to apply to walk, and I honestly didn’t care about it either. I turned to my outdoor passion and hiked up a waterfall in the area with my sister. She took pictures of me as I fake tossed my graduation cap from the top of the falls. I felt completely lost at what to do next.
It was a Sunday night, maybe about a week after my rejection. I got a phone call from a number I didn’t know. I answered and it surprised me that it was my recruiter. He told me that it was his personal phone and that I should never call him back on that number. I sarcastically thought to myself “yeah…thanks I really don’t need to anymore…” He talked quickly and said that I should never repeat what he was going to tell me. His tone was one that I hadn’t heard from him before, he said that he would “deny this call happened it if I ever tried to bring it up.” That got my attention! He said he felt that he owed me a full explanation. My medical disqualification was really more of a sequestration issue.I had been accepted and would have attended, but they had lost funding for the remaining Officer School classes. They had needed to cut the class numbers drastically. They couldn’t just tell candidates who had already been accepted that they were no longer able to attend—Hence the “very serious” and pathetic medical reasons they listed for my disqualifications and the dramatic “medically unfit for service” label I received. I often wonder if anyone else had their duty plans changed that year. Is there another candidate out there who got kicked out because of bogus medical issues, or maybe even over a past life event like getting a speeding ticket?
I was budget cut! It still sucked, but this explanation at least allowed me to stop beating myself up for past minor medical issues. The rest of the year wasn’t easy. I said good bye to my awesome student job at the base. I angrily drifted around all summer waiting for public school to start to I could at least substitute teach. I was feeling low and ended up making some questionable decisions.
Everyone I tried to reach out to about this seemed confused by my whole situation, and some were even downright suspicious of me! I felt like a failure, or like I had been scammed into believing I was actually good enough. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep. I hadn’t told too many people of my Navy plans, and I was glad I hadn’t because it did fall though. The downside to this was that not many people knew why I was so upset. The friends and family I did tell seemed confused as to why I didn’t go to Officer School after all…. I’m sure some of them thought I had “chickened out” and just decided not to go. Some people in my hometown spread rumors about me, saying I lost weight because I was on drugs. My mother confronted me about the rumors one night, and that really hurt. How could she think I was using drugs? She knew about my plans to join the Navy and saw me working out! I was upset over the lack of any support and felt extremely low. That was the push I needed to make a big change.
One day I asked myself “Why did I even want to join the Navy?” I remembered all of the reasons why I was excited. I wanted to travel! I wanted to move and meet people! I wanted to be respected in my career. I knew there had to be a way I could still do all of these things without the Navy. I began looking for jobs in areas that I was curious to travel to. One of my co-teachers had told me that teachers were desperately needed in other parts of the country. I began researching other possibilities. I Skyped with principals in Alaska, researched outdoor education facilities, and looked into other non-traditional ways to use a teaching degree. Sure, some outdoor education facilities only hire ONE signal teacher a season…but if I was able to get into Office School why not try my luck with some of these dream teaching positions? I turned the “go for it” attitude I had towards submitting my application to the Navy board into applying for interesting jobs and internships. Sure these jobs weren’t going to pay nearly as much, or have predictable career paths— but I was willing to be broke in order to try and be happy again.
By the end of 2013 I had a call back from a Wildlife education center in Texas. By the spring of 2014 I was one of four interns living a dream job on that ranch. From there I applied to the largest outdoor education center on the West coast—The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. By 2015 I was teaching in the wilderness of Oregon and traveling with campers back into the city of Portland on the weekends. It was the dream outdoor teaching job I always wanted, but never thought I could land. I had moved across the country with less than $600 saved. I met so many amazing people, that I still keep in contact with. The three years I lived in Oregon were so packed with ADVENTURE, and mostly on my own terms. I know I wouldn’t have had that much fun in the Navy. I basically stayed out of my hometown for about 4 years, close to the same amount of minimal time I would have had to travel with the Navy.
Slowly the disappointment of the Navy began to vanish. I still wonder what would have happened if I had gotten to attend Office Training school. My life would be so completely different! After bouncing around teaching outdoor sciences and even having my first classroom at a remote public school in Oregon (go Eagle-Loggers!), I decided to come back to Pennsylvania and give public school another try.
I have helped several students apply to the armed services and pick a program that best suits their talents. I’ve practiced exams with students who are nervous test takers. I’ve re-taught math concepts to struggling students so they could pass the ASVAB. In a strange twist, I’ve coached students who were WAY MORE athletic than me about some ways they could train better. I’ve been in charge of gym classes twice—This is stunning to me, and somewhat cathartic seeing as how school gym classes were always very stressful for me, I know what it feels like to be that uncoordinated and unpicked kid! Most importantly I’ve used my story to caution the struggling student who says “I don’t care about school—I’m just going to join the services!” Stressing the importance of a having a backup plan and offering to help them get ready. I recently got a nice thank you message from a student who was headed to boot camp and it felt like a “full circle” moment. Sometimes wounds fade to scars when we’re able to use them to help others.
A quote by popular author Rachel Marie Martin sums up where I am at in my life now, “Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.” I
Leave a Reply