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Science teacher Cathy Cohn describes experience in U.S. Navy

unnamedWritten by Elizabeth Chung

To many students, high school is when they figure out their interests and brainstorm plans for the future. However, not every student ends up with an answer; science teacher Catherine Cohn was one of these students. “When I was in high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Cohn said. “This was after taking the PSAT and I started getting all those glossy flyers in the mail from colleges. I got a flyer from the Naval Academy that piqued my interest.”

This interest led her to join the Naval Academy Summer Seminar, which was a one-week-long summer training that gave a taste of the Naval Academy. “I really liked it and decided to apply to the Naval Academy, and once I expressed interest in the Naval Academy, I started getting flyers about ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps],” Cohn said. “As time went on, I started questioning whether I really wanted to give up a normal college experience to go to a service academy. I ended up deciding to do ROTC so that I [could] have a more traditional college experience and be able to end up with a commission in the Navy after I graduate. It was a great solution to my not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up and, in the meantime, having job security and serving the country.”

During her time in ROTC, Cohn had to balance two different lifestyles. “For the most part, I was a normal college student as I only had ROTC obligations about two to three times a week,” Cohn said. “ The biggest time commitment was the classes. Every semester there was a naval science course I had to take. I did ROTC in MIT and went to Harvard. The classes were about an hour to an hour-and-a-half twice a week so I would get back to my dorm and shower before my roommates were even awake.”

Cohn’s time in the military has helped her to learn more about herself. “It certainly helped me get to know my strengths, my challenges and what I wanted to do with my life,” Cohn said. “That is partly why I ended up going into teaching because my favorite part of being a naval officer was the relationship, mentorship and leadership I got to experience.”

After being in the ROTC, Cohn was commissioned as an officer and spent five years in the Navy. In the Navy, Cohn traveled to many places that fed her wanderlust. “I went to Singapore, Dubai, Bahrain, Western Australia and Diego Garcia, which is a tiny island in the Indian Ocean,” Cohn said. “I don’t think you can get there if you’re not in the military, so that was cool.”

Although the Navy had good pay and travels, stresses were high. “When I was serving on the ship for two and a half years, I stood watch on the bridge and at certain points we had three watch sections, which meant that I would stand up there every 6 hours out of 18 hours,” Cohn said. “I couldn’t get on a sleep schedule and the 12 hours I wasn’t on watch, I would have to do my regular job as a division officer. That was tough.”

Although Cohn was fortunate to not lose any colleagues to combat, she recalls losing colleagues to death by suicide. “A colleague I worked with in 2007 and 2008 on the ship lost his life to suicide shortly after I transferred and moved away,” Cohn said. “That was really hard for me. He left behind small children.” Cohn recalls the lack of support in the Navy when she lost her father and believes that more support is needed. “I went to see a counselor because I really wanted some grief counseling and support,” Cohn said. “I met with the counselor and after 20 minutes he said, ‘Okay, I’m going to diagnose you with depression. Here’s a prescription for antidepressants.’ I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want meds. Maybe I need meds but I really want to talk to somebody,’ and he said, ‘Oh, we don’t really do that.’ Now that was over ten years ago so times may have changed but that was really tough for me and I didn’t feel like I had the support to really seek out counseling.”

Cohn also believes that veterans should be given more support while they adjust to civilian life. “The hardest part is transition: leaving the service and going back to the civilian world is a really tough transition and I think that the Veterans Affairs (VA) plays a part but not every VA hospital has the same resources,” she said. “I think that the transition is tough for many military veterans because a lot of folks have PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] or just have a really hard time getting back to a different sort of life.”

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