Service in Navy a family tradition

Nov. 12, 2012 @ 04:50 AM

The Navy runs through the blood of JoAnn Walker.

Her father served. Her brothers served. She met her husband in the Navy, and two of her children are now serving in the same branch.

Walker said her family feels at home in East Tennessee because of the way people here embrace veterans. She was attending a ceremony honoring veterans at Sevier County High School Friday when she sat down to talk to a reporter from The Mountain Press.

“We’re about as close as you can get to a military area without being on a base,” she said. That’s what drew them here, along with the mountains and lakes they enjoy.

Walker speaks in a low voice; some of her vocal chords were paralyzed in a surgery a few years ago to correct an injury she suffered while serving.

But the pride is still evident in her voice when she talks about her 20-year career, which saw her rise from the enlisted ranks to the level of lieutenant colonel.

Many officers go immediately into officer candidate school, but Walker started at the lowest rank and worked her way up and she says it made a difference in the type of officer she became.

“I already knew what the real Navy was like” she said. ‘I think I had more respect for the chiefs and first classes,” she said, referring to the leaders out of the enlisted personnel.

She had hoped to be a pilot, and attended flight training, but was eventually medically disqualified and became an aviation maintenance officer. Looking back, that turned out to be for the best, she said, because she had to balance having a family with serving and being a pilot could have made that even more difficult.

“I think it was all God’s plan,” she said.

She still served on aircraft carriers, and was serving during combat in Kosovo and Iraq. Working on a carrier during combat is intense, even if the dog fights are not directly overhead.

“There’s anxiety when they fly leave (fully armed) and you know they’re coming back empty and you just hope everyone comes back safe,” she said. ‘You’re awake 48 to 72 hours and you don’t feel tired.”

Now she knows two of her children are serving during war time. And while she’s proud to see vets honored at the proper time, that’s not why she and her family serve.

“You don’t do it for rewards,” she said. “You do it for God and country.”