Honoring Veterans: UT Senior Recalls Her Navy Deployment

Veterans Day is Friday, and UT Knoxville wants to thank the more than 629 faculty, staff, and students who are active duty U.S. military, veterans, reservists, or members of the National Guard. Each day this week we’ll tell the story of a UT Knoxville student-veteran.

KNOXVILLE— While Christine Braaten was in the Navy, she went on a six-month humanitarian deployment aboard the USNS Mercy to provide follow-up medical care in Southeast Asia and Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.

“It was my most meaningful and memorable experience in the Navy,” said Braaten, 30, who spent six years as a Navy information systems technician. She is now a senior in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Christine Braaten

Christine Braaten poses with some of the children she met in a rural village in Jolo, a volcanic island in the southwest Philippines, during her six-month humanitarian deployment.

Since the tsunami had hit two years before, much rebuilding had already occurred. Still, Braaten saw poverty and destruction like she’d never seen before.

She said she saw morgues without electricity, hospitals without running water.

The deployment provided humanitarian assistance and routine medical care to people in the nations affected by the tsunami. The staff aboard the Mercy included U.S. and foreign active-duty military, reserve military, and non-governmental organizations, such as Operation Smile, which repairs cleft palates.

Braaten helped maintain the ship’s computers and keep the Internet service working, although she did volunteer a few times to go ashore and help distribute supplies or assist with medical care.

“We handed out supplies, like mouthwash and toothpaste and shoes,” she said. “And there was one day I gave flu shots.”

Braaten joined the Navy soon after graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers with a degree in psychology. She wanted to travel and have some adventures before figuring out what she wanted to do in life.

She planned on enlisting in the Air Force, but when she got to the recruiting office that morning, it wasn’t opened. She went next door and joined the Navy instead.

An aptitude test showed Braaten had a natural ability for computer work. The Navy put her through some training and then sent her to the Keflavik, Iceland, to help maintain the NATO base there. Later, she was transferred to the Naval Medical Center San Diego to work on the information technology staff.

In Iceland, Braaten met her husband, who was also in the Navy, and the couple had a son.

Braaten is planning to graduate in December 2012 and then apply for UT’s graduate program in mycology, the study of fungi. Her goal is to be a researcher.

“Being in the Navy definitely developed my confidence. Any type of leadership ability I have that didn’t come naturally was certainly developed in the Navy. The Navy made me a stronger person.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

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