Military 101: A Conversation with a Fletcher Veteran by Connor Akiyama (A’21)

by jtijssen
Apr 01

On its last meeting of the month, ALLIES hosted a conversation with Lt. Maria Katrina Ablen (F’19) to talk about her personal experiences during her military service and her own observations about the future of the United States Navy.

Katrina is both a second-year MALD student at The Fletcher School as well as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve. Ablen was born to first-generation Filipino-American parents in Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. Following in her father’s footsteps, she entered the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Unit at The George Washington University. Katrina has completed tours in the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa, and in South Korea. She has served as an electronic warfare officer, damage control officer, and operations assessment officer throughout her time in the Navy and is currently enrolled full-time at Fletcher to pursue her graduate studies

Ablen kicked the talk off with a fun fact to explain her responsibilities as a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO). As a SWO, she was involved in the filming of the movie Captain Philips, where she drove the USS Truxtun. Following that, Ablen explained her military past and the unique role that the military has played in her family’s integration into the United States.

She then launched into her own advice for the audience and told us, “I highly recommend everyone go into public service… It doesn’t matter your point of entry; what matters is how you perform when you’re there.”

According to Ablen, what prompted her advice were her fears about the future of the combat readiness of the U.S. military and its difficulty competing with the private sector to recruit the talent necessary to maintain a competitive edge. It is also hard for many to contemplate a military life because of the notion that the “needs of the Navy superseded anything in the serviceperson’s preferences.” However, she stressed that the military provides unique team management and crisis management skills.

Ablen recounted her own experiences with the military and both the ups and downs of its personnel management. She particularly lamented the inability of the military to match everyone to the skill sets or positions they may be best suited to, a constraint brought on by bureaucracy and a hierarchical chain of command. Ablen has witnessed both the deployment and policy sides of the Navy and was able to contrast the stresses of working in constant close quarters aboard destroyers with the frustrations of defending military protocol in front of congressional representatives.

Personal conflicts between military deployments, higher education, and family are also a large part of the psyche of any serving personnel. According to Ablen, these inner conflicts are heightened onboard due to compact living spaces and the mental toll everyone endures by working and living in the same limited area.

As for the Navy itself, Ablen believes it is attempting to navigate “the new realities brought before us [them]… piracy, drug trafficking, the South China Sea.”