Honoring Veterans: UT Social Work Grad Student, Navy Vet Hopes to Work in Veterans Affairs

Ligen FellerVeterans 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— Ligen Feller, 32, spent four years helping navigate an aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy. Once she finishes her master’s degree in social work at UT Knoxville, she hopes to help the military navigate the waters of social services.

When she finishes school, she’d like to land a job with Veterans Affairs.

“Being in the US Navy shed a light on my true patriotism,” she said.

But she also saw some things about the military she’d like to help change—like making it easier for sailors to come home for the births of their children.

A native of the Philippines who moved to America in July 2000, Feller served in the US Navy from 2006 to 2010.

After boot camp, she was a quartermaster seaman assigned to the navigation department on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), a nuclear aircraft carrier.

“My job was like being the human GPS of the ship,” she said. “Navigation on an aircraft carrier is highly stressful job.”

The job required constant monitoring and long stretches of staying awake.

Swim call

Feller and shipmates line up for swim call in the Arabian Sea. This photo was taken from the signal bridge, a floor above the ship's pilothouse. The shark watch crew can be seen in the boat. There are also search-and-rescue swimmers floating in the sea.

Among her favorite memories of her days in the military: “swim call” in the North Atlantic Ocean and battle training in Europe.

“On the way home from the deployment, our ship had a swim call in the North Atlantic,” she said. “It’s when we stop in the middle of the ocean and sailors are allowed to jump off the hangar bay, which is about fifty feet high, into a deep blue ocean. There were other sailors with guns on shark watch in small boats around us. It was awesome!”

Another memorable experience was the “Neptune Warrior,” a two-month-long joint forces exercise in the waters off England, Scotland, and Ireland.

“It was like a real sea battle,” she said. “I was on USS McFaul, a destroyer-type ship. We were in an extreme maneuver effort to avoid torpedo. The ship was one-sided making a U-turn…we were all standing sideways on the bridge.

“It was mostly a sleepless two months, but it was as real as it gets for me when it comes to sea battles.”

Feller, who finished her bachelor’s degree in the spring and started graduate school this fall, said the Navy taught her to be detail-oriented.

“If sailors forget to do even a routine or common-sense task, it could mean life or death for 5,000 people on an aircraft carrier. For example, it’s routine for sailors to always log water depth during sea and anchor details. If we forget, the ship could run aground.”

She said it was difficult for her to get used to the “looseness” of civilian life.

“Even now, I write everything down,” she said. “I think it’s helped being detail-oriented while in school. I am never late on deadline assignments.”

C O N T A C T :

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

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