“I wish everyone could have the perspective of an individual in a war-torn country, or one who has served in a war zone…(We need to) embrace each other’s differences and grow from each other’s strengths. I’m not saying there is not room for improvement, but appreciate our fellow Americans’ hard work and put our heads together to make it better.”
SSG Kathryn Kelly
SSG Kathryn Kelly joined the Army at 17, served in Iraq and now is a mother of 3, and working on the front lines to combat COVID. Read her story on our source page.
SSG Kelly, Kathryn, US Army/US Army Reserves
Deployment to Iraq as a Water Purification Specialist 2004-2005,
Mobilization to Ft Bliss, TX as an Observer Controller Trainer 2008-2009
Why did you choose to serve?
I signed up when I was 17, I knew I wanted to go to college, but wanted to have some real life experience before jumping straight into school. I have always been very adventurous and saw it as a big adventure, a chance to serve, and be a part of something bigger then myself. Little did I know, 9/11 would happen a little over one month later and I would get to truly be a part of something much bigger than my teenage self. The Army was an adventure for sure but I gained a new family, too many lessons to count.
When you think of your service, what most comes to mind?
Appreciation for my fellow soldiers who gave a lot more than I did; appreciation for the person it helped shape me into. I learned some hard lessons and have always been extremely grateful for my military experience. I have many friends that do not feel the same way and carry much more with them on a daily basis whether it be physical or mental scars.
I went to Iraq when I was only 20 years old, the majority of us did not even know what it was like to be an adult on our own yet. I always felt like my experiences in Iraq made me grow up really fast in a short period of time. When I got home I most certainly did not have the same priorities as other 21-year-olds. Having that perspective as a young adult gave me an advantage. When I went back to school I buckled down, I didn’t party the same as my classmates (I had already partied enough as a soldier). I had different responsibilities and I was always in a race against the clock to get as much done before my next deployment/mobilization. I feel like I have accomplished more because of my military experiences then I would have if I had not chosen that route. In the military you learn that you can make it through most things no matter how bad, just keep pushing through, it gives you resilience. I was taken out of school twice and still ended up graduating and not having to restart the nursing program.
How has your service impacted your view of America?
My grandma once said, “My grandkids don’t know how good they have it, you come from a good strong family with a lot of support.” I remember thinking, “Of course, I have appreciation for those things.”
I feel like many Americans are like my stubborn teenage self and think they have it rough or not good enough. I wish everyone could have the perspective of an individual in a war torn country, or one who has served in a war zone. We take so much for granted in the US. We have so many amazing resources at our disposal. We do truly take care of our own. This country does provide healthcare to those who are unable to care for themselves, we feed them and provide housing. All of our children have the opportunity to attend schools. We have a beautiful interstate system that allows us to travel to all ends of our county. We can grow our own crops, and mine our own oil. More people need to take PRIDE in the country we live in. We need to stop making such a big deal about the little things, embrace each other’s differences and grow from each other’s strengths. I’m not saying there is not room for improvement, but appreciate our fellow Americans’ hard work and put our heads together to make it better.
What do you want your fellow Americans to know about Veterans Day?
We may all have different stories but we have all weathered extreme conditions and for that we carry a sense of pride whether it is in ourselves, our country, and/or our fellow service members. It is what makes us all family and it is our day to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
My husband is also a veteran, a Navy veteran. We have many different experiences but I have to say I absolutely love that we share that in common. I am proud that both of us experienced a lot of life as individuals and grew from our military experiences before we met. It makes us stronger as individuals and definitely stronger as a team. I would not have even met him if it were not for our military service. Chris had just gotten off of active duty and naturally he started working as a contractor on base. I belonged to and Army training unit that hired contractors to help us with deployment surges. The story goes… He saw me and said something, I’m sure pure gentlemen like, to one of his coworkers and then later that day they found out I was going to be the new Army NCOIC of his lane. He barely said anything to me, he always volunteered to help out with jobs and was one of the hardest workers. Of course, I heard his coworkers give him a hard time on a regular basis as any former service members would. Finally he asked me out via text, my sister text him back and forth for a while and then said yes without me even knowing. I did finally agree to go on a date and the rest is history.
My husband and I both work in the medical field. I work as an ER nurse and Chris as a paramedic. We have 3 young children and live far away from any family. COVID has impacted our family hard like most families in this world. We went from being scared in April and only seeing a couple of cases. To getting our butts kicked in June and just wading through it. Both of us had a couple of bad exposures, it is hard to go home to your family after knowing you were exposed trying to help people breath. You are fighting to help them live while exposing yourself to a dangerous virus. Don’t get me wrong we go in everyday well protected, but hypoxic people are confused and scared and when you put a mask on their face they panic before they get the benefits of the oxygen. I had a patient rip all of my protective face gear off in one felled swoop. We somehow made it through multiple exposures and somehow did not get COVID 19. Then in June my little ER went from seeing 25 pts a day to nearly 200. We saw patients in their cars. We couldn’t keep up with the testing or staffing. Eventually the odds were stacked against us, at this same time Chris was transporting some of the most critical patients in the region. Chris got COVID 19 first and then the whole family did. We were lucky and all of us had fairly minor symptoms. My symptoms stuck around the longest. I was back to work 15 days later but did not feel fully recovered until sometime in August.
I could not be more proud of the medical team I work with, especially in the busiest stretch of COVID and the way we showed back up to work every morning just to get beat up again. We were working in hot TX sun, triaging, testing and bringing only those that were the sickest into the ER for further treatments. My time in the Army definitely helped me stay positive and keep pushing through my very long 12+ hour shifts.
by Jenna Lee,