Face of Defense: Sailor Takes on New Challenges
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 30, 2010 Navy Ensign Kara Sartain has risen in the ranks and in her career through a combination of hard work and sheer determination.
Navy Ensign Kara Sartain, an auxiliaries officer aboard the USS Bainbridge, oversees a division of seven sailors. Sartain attended the U.S. Naval Academy to become an officer and switched careers in a quest to keep challenging herself in her career. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In less than five years, she earned a college degree, went from enlisted sailor to naval officer and tackled a new job that was a 180-degree shift from before.
Her drive, she said, comes from a desire to excel. “I always feel like I could be doing more, giving more,” she said. “I don’t want to ever peak.”
Sartain joined the Navy in 2001, seeking to expand her horizons beyond her small hometown of Woodstock, Conn. She walked into the recruiter’s office knowing exactly what she wanted to do in the Navy.
“I told the recruiter, ‘Give me something medical,’” she said. Her father had died of cancer when she was 12, sparking her interest in the career field.
“Since I couldn’t help my father, my situation, I wanted to help others,” Sartain said. “Plus, there’s something selfless about serving others.”
Sartain was 17 at the time and still in high school. After a year in the delayed enlistment program, she entered the Navy and served as a corpsman at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for several years, serving in intensive care units.
“I liked the job a lot,” she said. “It seemed to come natural for me. I couldn’t get enough.”
While working in a cardiac intensive care unit, she was selected to serve on the medical team that cares for the president when he comes to Bethesda. “I felt like I got lucky,” she said.
She rose in the ranks to petty officer 3rd class, but felt she had stalled at that point and “wanted something more.” Then one day she saw some midshipmen in “funny” outfits and found out they were cadets in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “I decided I wanted to go there,” she said.
Sartain worked on her application package for more than a year. Her SAT scores resulted in her application being turned down, but she didn’t take no for an answer. “I took them over and over, and they were finally high enough,” she said.
The Navy first sent her to a prep school in Rhode Island to brush up on her academics. She then attended the academy from 2004 to 2008.
“I had to work super hard,” Sartain said. “I was surrounded by super smart kids. I worked weekends and nights, and I passed.”
Through it all, Sartain found time to fall in love with an enlisted sailor who also went on to become an officer. They married a week after she graduated from the academy.
Unable to gain entry into the academically challenging medical officer career field, Sartain graduated as a surface warfare officer and asked to be stationed on the USS Bainbridge to stay close to her husband. She oversaw a division of 18 sailors who were in charge of boat handling, anchoring and the flight deck. “Here I was, a little blonde girl from Connecticut, in charge of a rowdy group,” she said. “But they were awesome.”
She next moved on to become an auxiliaries officer, overseeing a division of seven. “We own all of the auxiliary systems on board -- the air conditioning unit, refrigeration systems, galley equipment – anything with a motor,” she explained.
The key to success, she said, is “being flexible. It’s a fast-paced mission.”
Last year, Sartain participated in the highly publicized rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips after Somali pirates attempted to hijack the ship Maersk Alabama.
Always up for new challenges, Sartain said she and her husband would like to be stationed overseas, and she hasn’t given up on her quest to enter the medical field.
“I’m working on a package to serve in the medical service corps,” she explained, noting that, this time around, she would be serving in administration.
“It’s all gone by so fast,” she said. “I’ve been to four or five countries already and work with some awesome people. It sure got me out of my small hometown.”