By Chase Rheam
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It has been an eventful five years in the life of Stillwater resident Michelle Dillard. It all began with a decision to enter the Navy in 2008.
“I was in college at OSU and I was doing marketing and I wasn’t liking it so I knew I had to do something,” she said. “I had a cousin in the Navy and so I decided why not, let’s join the Navy. What’s four years?”
Dillard said she had wanted to do something with her life that forced her to leave her comfort zone figuratively and literally, taking her from her hometown of Stillwater.
Once she entered the service, she was assigned and taught in her new role as an Aviation Support Equipment Technician.
“I fixed forklifts and tractors that pulled jets on a carrier,” she said.
Dillard grew to love the aspect of the ever-changing new life to which she had agreed. However, there were lonely times.
“You talk to your family a lot because that’s a constant,” Dillard said. “That never changes. You try to make bonds and friendships with other women in the military, but it’s hard. You do your best.”
After attending school in Pensacola, Fla., Dillard was stationed on the USS Nimitz in San Diego for two years. Her first tour of duty came July 31, 2009, when the carrier sailed toward its first port of call in Japan. The deployment would last eight months.
“Ship life, there’s nothing like it,” she said. “It’s definitely an acquired world that you live in. It’s kind of lonely because there’s about 6,000 on the ship and women are 1-in-5, so there’s very, very few.”
Add in the fact that Dillard was prone to seasickness and it was a rough first few days getting accustomed to life on the ship.
She said she learned a lot during her service.
“I think, in general, people don’t understand the kinds of sacrifices that people in the military make,” Dillard said. “Unless they know somebody, unless they have a family member in the military, they don’t understand and I didn’t understand, even with family in the military, I just never understood the sacrifices until I was making them.”
She said the United States is wonderful and has given her a new respect for the military.
However, her greatest accomplishment in the Navy goes down a different route.
“I think my greatest accomplishment in the Navy was finding my husband and becoming a mother,” she said. “I don’t think life gets better than being a parent.”
Dillard, with her former last name McKeown, said she didn’t meet her husband until after her deployment. He was stationed on the USS Nimitz, too. Dillard became pregnant in 2011 and having served more than three years, asked for an early exit. She was honorably discharged in December of that year.
Her daughter, Ella, was born three months later. She turned 2 in March.
Dillard returned to Stillwater with a new life and a new path, returning to OSU in January 2012 to pursue a degree in elementary education and dreams of writing a contemporary romance book.
“I’ve always wanted to be that person that lives their life to the fullest and do everything they possibly could and years from now, when I’m 80 and 90 years old, I want to say that I lived my life completely and fully,” Dillard said.