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Why We Serve: Navy Was Natural Choice for Lifelong Sailor

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2007 – A lifelong love for the sea led Lt. j.g. Katie Hagen to the Navy, and now her service is taking her around the country to share her pride in serving the nation.

Hagen is participating in the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public outreach program as one of eight servicemembers who travel across the nation to speak to community groups, ranging from veterans organizations to grade schools, about their personal stories of military service.

Her success in the Navy seemed preordained. After sailing for nearly half her life, Hagen became a member of the Sea Scouts, part of the scouting movement that focuses on boat management and seamanship, when she was 14 years old.

Quickly rising to the rank of quartermaster, the equivalent of an Eagle Scout, she became a national boatswain and, at the age of 17, was hand-selected to serve as a U.S. representative in New Zealand to the 2000 America’s Cup, considered to be the world’s premier sailing event.

“I have to live on the water,” the now 24-year-old Hagen said. “I can’t imagine being landlocked.”

The Slidell, La., native’s love for water and sailing even played a role in choosing her college and, ultimately, her career.

“I was determined that I wanted to get through college on my own,” Hagen said. This drive led her to make the “no-brainer” decision to join the ROTC. In addition to the fact it would pay for her education, she said, she knew life on the water was for her, either in the U.S. Coast Guard or the Navy.

After graduating from Tulane University in 2004, she was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy. Hagen said she found a career where she could apply the knowledge of the sea she had been developing since age 8.

Hagen has an impressive list of accomplishments on her resume. In support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, she served onboard the USS Donald Cook, where she helped perform anti-pirating operations off the coast of Somalia and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf.

Her most recent assignment has been as a training officer within the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Strike Group, where she was responsible for security cooperation initiatives with four of the six countries in the Gulf Cooperation, a regional partnership among the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. She also coordinated replenishment operations between U.S. warships and oil rigs.

One of the lessons Hagen said she has learned during her military service is that “life seems to be so cheap in some parts of the world.”

“I no longer take little things for granted,” she said. “I didn’t realize how good we have it in America. I appreciate life back here so much more.”

She recounted coming across a small fishing boat in the Persian Gulf that had been the victim of piracy. “They had no food or water, and the ship was riddled with bullet holes,” she said. “They had no radio to call for help.”

Hagen said that the stranded victims were drifting in the middle of the Gulf and would have been in true peril if her crew had not come to their aid. The victims were extremely grateful when her team provided them enough food, water and fuel to get to their destination, she said.

Many local shipping and fishing vessels take advantage of the protection provided by coalition ships in the area, Hagen said. “Boats try to congregate near our ships because they know they will be safe from terrorists out on the seas.”

People will go to desperate measures to survive, she said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to see acts of such desperation. It just drives the point home even further that the freedom we have as Americans is something that others don’t have.”

The experience has been an eye-opener, Hagen said. “I am so proud to be part of the Navy’s mission in the region and get a chance to make a difference,” she added.

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