Air Force Veteran Finds ‘Home Away from Home’

Catherine Jones '16 (CLAS) outside the Student Veterans Oasis at the Student Union. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Catherine Jones ’16 (CLAS) outside the Student Veterans Oasis at the Student Union. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

When Catherine (Cat) Jones ’16 (CLAS) first toured the Storrs campus, she immediately felt at home. Once enrolled, she discovered the Veterans Oasis in the Student Union, and that’s when she knew she had found ‘family.’

Jones, a native of the Dallas, Texas area, was a fairly typical teenager. When she started college, she knew she wanted to do something ‘awesome’ with her life, but she had no definite career goals and her academic achievements were modest. Believing that she needed a sense of direction, her stepfather suggested that she consider joining the military to receive both ‘on-the-job’ training and the opportunity to take advantage of educational benefits offered through the armed forces.

Although there was no immediate family history of military service, Jones followed his suggestion, and that decision changed her life. After looking at the various military branches, she decided the Air Force might be a good fit, and it turned out to be “the perfect choice.”

Following basic training, Jones was assigned to Misawa Air Force Base in Japan. Located approximately 400 miles north of Tokyo, on the northeastern part of the main island of Honshu, the base is home to the 35th Air Force Fighter Wing as well as US Army and Navy installations and the Japan Self-Defense Force.

In the military, you … learn to push yourself to be even better. That quickly becomes a core value.

Initially assigned to patient administration in the 35th Medical Group, Jones transferred to the mental health, substance abuse, and family advocacy clinic, where she triaged individuals seeking mental health counseling and also worked with military families with special needs.

“I received a lot of on-the-job training,” she says, “and I loved what I was doing. I had a lot of responsibility and I really felt I was making a difference. The facility at Misawa is small, so sometimes I would have to move an entire family to another base that had the specific educational or medical services that were needed.”

Following her tour in Japan, Jones was assigned to Buckley Air Force base in Aurora, Colo., where she was administrator of a flight medicine clinic. “In the military, you quickly learn that your efforts are never quite good enough,” she says. “You learn to push yourself to be even better. That quickly becomes a core value and it’s something that stays with you. When I got to Buckley, I knew the clinic could be better organized and better run, and that’s what I accomplished during my assignment there.”

After four and a half years in the Air Force, Jones left active duty as a staff sergeant in September 2009. She subsequently relocated to Connecticut with her family, which by then included an infant son, and applied to UConn.

Jones believes that our personal dynamic is molded by our experiences, and that is what led to her to her psychology major and her interest in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “I was introduced to PTSD in the Air Force and I’ve been really intrigued by a particular aspect that includes blackout/flashback episodes. When I finish my undergraduate degree, I would really like to get into PTSD research on a neurological level.”

In the meantime, Jones finds herself a busy full-time student, employee in the Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs through the VA work study program, and devoted mom. Just a bit older than many undergraduates, and with responsibilities that set her somewhat apart, she turns to her fellow veterans and the camaraderie she finds at the Veteran’s Oasis.

“I love being around younger students,” she says, “but I can really bond with my fellow veterans. Every semester we get new people and they just become part of the group. We don’t even have to learn anyone’s whole story in order to relate. We just ‘know’ each other and our family gets larger.”