Enlisted for Education
In the fall semester at Kent State University in 2021, Kaitlyn Bittner, a freshman, made an impulsive decision that altered the course of her education. She chose to enlist in the army. At the time, her tuition being paid for was the only thing that impacted her decision.
“I could not pay for school at all. No loans, no grants. Nothing was working out for me. I got an email one day from a recruiter, and I only know how to make impulsive decisions. I got that email, met with him the next day, and was enlisted a week later.” Kaitlyn confirmed.
Kaitlyn is a sophomore aeronautics major at Kent State. She returned from basic training about one month ago. In the two semesters that she hasn’t been at school, a lot has changed in her life. She completed AIT and basic training from May through December of 2022, and has since jumped back into focusing on her education.
Before she received that email, the army was not on Kaitlyn’s mind.
“Before that email? No, never. Never. I was always that type of person that was like, you could never catch me in any military branch.”Kaitlyn Bittner
To make sense of why Kaitlyn never thought about the military until that email, she started to realize why she didn’t see herself that way.
“When I was growing up, it was engraved into my brain that I was just a girl. People always described me as clumsy, and with your stereotypical girl words, I guess. So I kind of made fun of myself in that sense. I was like, no, I’m too clumsy and girly to ever be in the military. Just because that’s what I was always told,” Kaitlyn explained.
Now that Kaitlyn is back at Kent State, there are a few notable differences she’s experienced. She was only at Kent State for one semester prior to leaving for basic training. After a year, things can change. After Kaitlyn’s own experience, things felt different for her personally as well. As far as solely her education goes at Kent State, there were some subtle changes.
“Obviously I am now a year behind. I have to miss a class here and there with drill. But, I do have this professor who is a retired military man. It’s interesting because I just really understand the way he teaches, because he teaches just like my sergeants do.”Kaitlyn Bittner
While her social life is still consistent, Kaitlyn has a new perspective since basic training. It has made her more observant towards the way others act. Not only did enlisting in the army affect how Kaitlyn sees others, but it affected her as well.
Before basic training, Kaitlyn did not think the army was going to change or affect her personally. It was just a finance choice. “Before I left for basic, I would always see social media posts about people saying they found themselves there. I couldn’t comprehend that. But now, I get it. I can now recognize and understand things in myself that I couldn’t before.”
During her first semester, Kaitlyn adapted to Kent State, and the people there. The drastic change in environment also held its own impact.
“At the time, I was very upset about leaving Kent State. When I was in AIT, I had my phone, as opposed to basic training when I didn’t have my phone. Which was so much worse, because I could see what was happening. I could see all of my friends still living their lives without me there, which obviously they were going to do. I just felt very far away.” Kaitlyn described the social impact that enlisting left on her.
Kaitlyn’s accomplishments take place in male-dominated fields. Not only was the army male-dominated, but now that she is back at Kent State, her major of aeronautics is as well. Kaitlyn does what she is passionate about and good at. However, people are sometimes surprised when they see her and learn about all she’s achieving.
“I wanted to be a flight attendant for the longest time. I didn’t choose to go towards being a pilot until a week before my first classes at Kent began. I think that goal of being a flight attendant was acting as a barrier, because I’m a girl. I think I finally put more thought into it and was like, I’m an intelligent human being, and I want to be a pilot, why don’t I just become a pilot.”Kaitlyn Bittner
“I’ve recently just taken a step back and just looked at myself like a character. I started to notice that when I talked to some males they had that mindset that what we’re doing is a male thing, that it isn’t a female thing. When I first meet people in the army or at the airport, I always feel like I have to make my personality stronger, or more masculine to show that I belong. Once I get more comfortable I’m definitely myself. But when I meet people I do feel like I have to ‘man-up’.” Kaitlyn doesn’t feel different, however there are accommodations she subconsciously makes.
Although it might have been an impulse decision, Kaitlyn does not regret enlisting in the army for a second.
“I’m so glad I did it. I made such great friendships, and I genuinely feel like I’m a better person because of it.”Kaitlyn Bittner
Not only did Kaitlyn learn more about herself, but now she continues her education at Kent State with her initial goal of tuition costs accomplished.