Profiles in Valor: Major Katelyn van Dam

We have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center The officers and senior enlisted on the Navy Side are fabulous at the Naval Academy but the Marines reminded me of cops. And I say this because it was this scrumbling of, oh we work longer hours, were under-appreciated, underpaid, we have the worst gear, but at the end of every single day – there’s like, there’s this pride in being a Marine. I grew up in a family of police officers, and it’s very similar you know and it just appealed to me – appealed to my soul. And then 9/11 happened, and it really just secured that decision even further. The whole conversation changed. I would argue that the change truly changed the course of modern history. My first deployment, we were on the 13th Mu on HD4 and we head towards the lovely Gulf of Aden, off the Coast of Somalia to do counter-piracy operations. It was JTF, Joint Task Force 151, under Admiral Howard. So it was in 2011, I spent a lovely, warm summer in Helmand Province, Southern Afghanistan, and our mission there was primarily close air support. So we would shoot for the Marines or sometimes for other for other services on the ground, either pre-planned missions or sometimes called TIcs, troop in contact. So somebody’s out on a patrol, they start getting shot at, they’re not able to maneuver out of that area, so they would call us. The teamwork and the pure focus on the mission was something I’ve never experienced since. When you’re in that situation honestly is trying to figure things out. Gotta figure out where the good guys are, you got to figure out where the civilians are, you got to figure out where the bad guys are, make sure there are no civilians. You know I remember one time we showed up and this guy we had PIT on him, we had positive-identification of him, and he walks in this corn or this wheat field like okay, we’re just going to wait for him to come out the other side. He comes out the other side holding the kids hand. We can’t do anything at that point, right, so it’s just heightened awareness. And for when you hellfire, a button when you hit that button, or you pull the trigger there is an amount of like sheer and utter terror. Like dear God, please don’t let me have missed anything. You’re also like very sure you get confident the more you get there, but I don’t know that it was over 100% like yeah, this is coming at you, buddy. You know that was after you know, we’re all big talk after the after the firefight. But at the time it’s like okay, I think I got this down, please do not let me have missed something. I did feel the need to prove myself more than I think maybe some of my peers did. But combat is the great equalizer. You know you can be the stud of the squadron and you get into a combat situation and if you choke okay. You can be somebody who maybe people aren’t sure about and step up to the plate. At the end of the day nobody cared whatever their feelings were or nobody that I cared as long as I was competent. So we have it, I would say throughout my career there’s certainly challenges people of biases but, they never inhibited me to do my job. I was surrounded by phenomenal Marines. I never had issues leading my Marines as long. I never had anybody question anything. I worked with 65 of some of the most gifted human beings and patriotic human beings, other than that as far as the marines I led. And my peers for the most part I didn’t have any issues.

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