With WoVeN, everyone can be comfortable and be who they are. It’s very different than the military but that’s the thing that ties us together, that we’ve been through this experience that’s very different from the rest of the population.
Meet Caitlin Battell
U.S. Army Veteran
WoVeN Peer Leader, Austin, TX
Tell us about your military background.
My decision to join the Army came pretty quickly after graduating high school. I was enrolled at UMass Dartmouth, and then got my first bill! I was going to join the Reserves to help pay for college, but the recruiter convinced me to enlist as active duty to get 100% of my tuition paid. I didn’t have a grand plan to join the military, I just fell into it and got lucky and really liked it. I went to basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina in October 2002. I then completed the first phase of my advanced individual training (AIT) at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio as a medical laboratory specialist. I spent 6 months in medical training there and then went on to phase two, on-the-job training at Fort Bliss in El Paso at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. In March 2004 I was stationed in Germany at the Wuerzburg Army Hospital. From there, I was sent on orders to go back to America, where I served with the 21st Combat Support Hospital out of Fort Hood TX, providing relief for Hurricane Katrina from October-November 2005. We were going to deploy immediately after Katrina Relief, but were delayed a few months so I was sent back to Germany until around March. In 2006 I was deployed to Abu Ghraib where we worked in detainee healthcare operations, then moved to Camp Cropper in Baghdad, not far from the Green Zone in Baghdad. I reenlisted then moved to Fort Lewis in Washington to work at Madigan Army Medical Center, and I was promoted to Sergeant. I was then stationed in Korea at Camp Casey in 2010. I returned to the U.S. in 2011 and was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas when I began the discharge process in 2012.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your service?
I would say the most rewarding part was working with the other people I got to serve with. I had great NCOs and officers and Soldiers, and also civilians we worked with. I was lucky to serve on great teams. We were a medical unit so we were always doing missions with the aim of helping people, which is rewarding. I really enjoyed my time in the service. I got lucky with my experiences and the people I got to work with.
What was one of the challenges you faced in your transition from military to civilian life?
I think the first big challenge was just getting a job right out of the military. I was in the Killeen area and applying for jobs. Even though I had been working since I was 14, I couldn’t get a job doing anything. I think because I was medically discharged and had to check a box that said I was disabled on many of the forms, that was a big deterrent. I think they assumed I wouldn’t be able to come into work regularly or do the job well. So I decided to go back to school and use my GI bill. I went to school for psychology in Austin and was able to complete my bachelor’s degree in 2 years. Many of the students I went to school with were also recently discharged from the military, so it was nice to be with others who had similar life experiences.
What inspired you to become involved in WoVeN?
After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I went back to school for a master’s in counseling, and I now am working at the YWCA of Greater Austin as a counselor. I’m able to run the WoVeN group through our offices there. I saw a Facebook ad looking for peer leaders and members while I was waiting to receive my LPC license, and it sounded like a great opportunity to get involved. It had been a long time since I had spent time with Veterans, especially female Veterans, who had similar experiences as I did. It turned out that the other peer leader who applied (Leah Parker) happened to be a friend of mine who completed my graduate program at the same time, so it worked out well! I liked that WoVeN was an all-female group, and that it was about meeting people and making a network and connection with other female Veterans. I think women Veterans kind of disguise ourselves in the community, or just blend in/are not assumed to be veterans. Often when some of us first get out, we move away from that military community, and then after some time want to move back toward it. At first I was nervous about starting WoVeN, but after doing the training and leading the first group, it was clear that it was an awesome opportunity. It was a diverse group of women and ages and time in service, but we had this commonality of experience. There weren’t any of the stereotypes about different branches or MOS’s that sometimes happens while serving in the military. We get to regroup and start over together as women Veterans.
What would you like to tell women who are thinking of joining WoVeN?
I would say, “Do it! It’s really cool!” It happens very organically, even though it doesn’t seem like it would happen that you would make friends and connect with other Veterans in a comfortable and non-threatening manner. Everyone can be comfortable and be who they are. It’s very different than the military but that’s the thing that ties us together, that we’ve been through this experience that’s very different from the rest of the population.