Petty Officer Abigail Paul, U.S. Navy
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my then-boyfriend called me at home and told me to turn on the television. By the time I started watching, the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York had already been hit. I sat, transfixed, as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. As the events unfolded and later, as things became clearer, I felt a profound change – the world as we knew it would never be the same again. I also felt a call to action, to do something, to contribute, to serve my country.
I was weeks shy of my 30th birthday; I thought, "I'm too old for military service." It turns out, I wasn't! I carefully weighed my options and my skills and, in the end, I decided to become a linguist for the Navy. I had studied five different languages over the years and found it was one of my passions. Moving and waiting for an opening in my field of interest resulted in a long delay, but three years later, just before turning 33, I graduated from Navy Basic Training and arrived at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California, which I first learned about as a freshman at Indiana University. As soon as I arrived in Monterey, I hit the ground running. I quickly realized how much harder it was to acquire a new language at 33 versus 11, so I spent a lot of time studying!
Being "more mature," i.e., older, I immediately stepped into a role as a mentor. Younger Sailors often came to me for guidance and advice. I have always been happy to use my life experience to help others. I consider it my responsibility. I view supporting my Navy, my command, my shipmates and my fellow service members, and my community all part of serving my country. Wherever the Navy sends me, as long as I am there, I believe I should help make that place better.
Although I volunteered in the community before I joined the Navy, the sense of being part of something greater than myself grew much stronger when I put on the uniform. Over the years, I have organized and participated in so many events benefiting the environment, children, at-risk youth, current military and veterans, the homeless, cancer research, etc. While everything I do is special and meaningful to me, one organization has become very near and dear to my heart since being stationed in Maryland. That organization is Honor Flight.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization that began in 2005 to bring WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their new memorial. They have since expanded to include Korean and Vietnam War veterans. Every year, from March to November, thousands of veterans fly here from all over the country as part of Honor Flight. I am always particularly touched to see the women veterans. As a woman in the military today, I think of the courage and the chutzpah those young ladies had more than 70 years ago to go off and serve their country. Women in uniform wouldn't be where we are today without them paving the way!
Looking back on my years of service, the best advice I would give to any girl or young woman about their field of study or career is to never let fear stop you from doing anything. Whether someone fears the unknown or failure or what people will think or anything else, we are all far stronger and more capable than we think. Fear is natural and it can keep us alive (or at least stop us from being reckless), but it should never prevent us from reaching our full potential. Whenever I feel myself doubting whether I can do something or not, I think of those women vets. And I remember: I went through boot camp at 33! I can do anything!
Petty Officer Abigail Paul currently works as a linguist at National Security Agency.