Who Is This Veteran? Senior Chief Abbey Lehtinen Tells Her Story

on Saturday, 29 June 2019.

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According to the U.S. Veteran’s Administration, a little less than 10 percent of the U.S. population are military veterans. Of those, around 90 percent are males and 10 percent are females. About 30 percent of veterans are minorities.

Veterans live among us, all over the nation. Although I live in an area near a major military installation, I am still amazed at the number of veterans I meet in the community, many of whom we would never know have worn the cloth of our nation.

To me, a veteran is someone who has been willing to sacrifice their life, to serve a greater purpose; to protect the American way of life, our values and our future. Many veterans I meet have taken this deep commitment to service with them, even after they leave the military. Many veterans serve voluntarily in their communities, to help those in need. This service seems to be deeply engrained in their moral compass.

I joined the Navy in 1998, not only to serve my country, but also to carry on a tradition in my family. My father, and several of his brothers, served in the military during conflicts in Vietnam and Korea. He and one brother volunteered for the Army, during Vietnam, and two of my uncles served in the Marine Corps and Air Force during Korea. I never met my oldest uncle George, an Air Force veteran, whose plane was lost at sea off the coast of Korea. His remains were never recovered.

All the veterans in my family served voluntarily. To me, it only made sense that I carry on that tradition, and continue the promise my father and uncles made to ensure the future of our nation. As a female, and a minority in the military, I am sure my experience was very different than that of my family members. Although I always found myself outnumbered by males in every command I served, I believe the challenge to establish myself as an equal is what motivated me every day. I quickly found a deep love and appreciation of military service and the camaraderie it offers, and decided to make it a career. I retired in 2018, after 20 years and nine commands.

I served aboard three ships, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) – now decommissioned, USS Saipan (LHA 2), and USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The CVNs are nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, designed to launch aircraft ashore, and the LHA is an amphibious assault ship, designed to carry Marines and equipment to launch ashore.

My shore commands include the Navy Public Affairs Center in Norfolk, Va., the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Va., Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Il., and Navy Region Midwest (now decommissioned), and Training Support Center, both also in Great Lakes, Il. Seven years into my career, when I reported to Recruit Training Command as a Recruit Division Commander (RDC), known in other services as a drill instructor, I discovered a passion for training new Sailors. In what the Navy calls, “the training pipeline,” where I served seven of my 20 years, I found it especially rewarding to train the future of the Navy – those Sailors who would carry on the naval tradition, long after I retired.

Although I spent seven years as an instructor and Navy Master Training Specialist, my primary job, or Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) was that of a Journalist. As online and digital technology grew, my NEC was eventually renamed Mass Communication Specialist. I always loved writing and found that journalism would allow me to tell the Navy story at a personal level. This too allowed me to teach our Sailors and the American public what exactly the Navy does, and the many roles we play around the globe. While at my shore commands, I spent a lot of off-duty time doing public service in local communities, for which I earned the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service medal; although I would have volunteered my time with or without this recognition.

While I loved being a journalist and telling the Navy story, there were many times I was called to document tragic events for historical purposes; during aid operations with USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), a hospital ship, shortly after the fall of the twin towers in New York; in recovery efforts at the Pentagon in September of 2001; during the Iraq War, in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn and in numerous other missions involved in the Global War on Terrorism. These events emboldened my commitment to serve our country and make the world a safer place – a goal that I believe is the Navy’s true mission.

My military service offered me the opportunity to visit countries all over Europe and the Middle East. It allowed me to encounter different cultures, religions and ideologies. Perhaps the most unique experience, however, was the ability to work with such a diverse group of people, and recognize the importance of every person’s contribution to the big picture.

Although I earned a B.A.. in Journalism and Communications, and a Master’s of Business Administration while on active duty, I intend to spend the rest of my life pursuing a career in helping others. I have found a new love for hippotherapy, a form of therapeutic and rehabilitative treatment of horseback riding for children, adults and veterans facing physical and mental disabilities. I would like to continue my volunteer service in this area until I can eventually open a hippotherapy location in a community where it is not currently available.