OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Catrina Hammond-Meijer was born in Italy while her Navy father was stationed overseas. She came to live in the states when she was about 5 years old. Her grandparents lived in Okeechobee, and she and her brother came here to live with them.
Graduating from Okeechobee High School in 1989, Hammond-Meijer joined the Air Force immediately after graduation. The first female in the family to go into the military, Hammond-Meijer came from a long line of Navy, Army, Marine and Coast Guard veterans but chose the Air Force just to be different. Her older brother went into the Army before she joined the Air Force.
Basic training was completed at Lackland Air Force Base, and afterward she was trained in medical logistics or medical supply.
Her first duty station was a remote assignment in Germany at a contingency hospital in Donaueschingen. Contingency hospitals were only used during times of war. She was part of a skeleton staff on hand to ensure the hospital was ready if and when it was needed.
The hospital was in Southern Germany, about 30 miles from Switzerland. The hospital was permanently closed in 1995.
Hammond-Meijer was able to travel to Switzerland and Austria while there. Her brother was stationed in Germany at the same time she was there and they were able to visit several times. “It was kind of nice to get to explore Germany with my brother,” she said. He was stationed about two hours away, and they were able to spend some holidays together and even do a bit of traveling together.
Germany was her favorite station. “Having grown up in Okeechobee, it was the first time I had ever seen snow,” she said. It was a culture shock, mostly due to the language barrier, although most Europeans speak at least some English she explained. Some of them speak three or four languages. Because there were very few Americans in the small town, most of the Germans wanted to practice their English on the Americans, so communication was not much of a problem. “We just needed to learn how to read a menu and count our money,” she laughed.
Although she did not learn to ski while there, she did get her drivers license and drove a vehicle. “They drive on the same side of the road as we do,” she said.
After two years in Germany, Hammond-Meijer was sent to Moody AFB in Valdosta, Ga. This time, the hospital she was sent to was a working facility, and she worked in medical supply there as well. She spent two years at Moody AFB before being sent to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas.
She said Las Vegas was a place she would much rather visit than live. “It’s a very big town and the hustle and bustle and the weather. Ugh. It’s just so bloody hot! Temperatures reached 110-120 degrees.”
She served for a total of eight years and then left because her first husband was accepted for commercial pilot training in Florida. Before moving back to Florida however, the two were divorced and she moved to Alabama to be near her grandparents instead.
Hammond-Meijer has remarried. Her husband is from the Netherlands and speaks four different languages. She met him through friends.
Today, Hammond-Meijer works as a medical coder. She has been doing this for about five years and loves it.