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"My military service…it is the core and basis and foundation of my life." (Video interview, 1:19:57)

   Kimberly M. Mitchell
Collection image
Kimberly Mitchell in uniform, Arlington, Virginia
War: War on Terrorism, 2001-2009
Branch: Navy
Unit: USS Stump (DD 978); Assault Craft Unit 4 (ACU); USS Crommelin (FFG 37); Commander Destroyer Squadron 50 (COMDESRON); White House Military Social Aide
Service Location: Norfolk, Virginia; Washington, DC; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Bahrain
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
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Adopted as an infant from a Vietnamese orphanage in 1972 by an American airman and his wife, Kimberly Mitchell grew up in rural Wisconsin and dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force. A chance meeting with a Navy admiral inspired her to change her course and apply to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. Though she chose to defer her entrance for a year due to her father’s unexpected death, ultimately, she embarked on a 17-year career with the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. She was serving in Washington, DC, working with the State Department on Iraq sanctions and Middle East peacekeeping operations, during the September 11 terrorist attacks. She recalls in her oral history the overwhelming confusion and panic of that day: "That was my first experience of being truly scared not only for us, but for what was happening to our country. What was happening?" After working on issues of warrior and family support and transition policy, she chose to leave the military in 2012 to help found the Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, and has gone on to serve in numerous leadership roles at organizations supporting veterans in transition.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (95 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album  (10 photos)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Born in Vietnam; mother was killed; rescued by a South Vietnamese Marine and delivered to an orphanage; adopted by James Mitchell, an airman serving in Da Nang; grew up in New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin. (01:57) Father introduced the idea of the Air Force Academy as early as the third grade; liked structure; routine of military life was easy to comprehend. (01:09) Chance meeting with a Rear Admiral in the Navy, who suggested she consider the Naval Academy; glossy marketing material caught her eye and changed her mind. (01:51)
A week before she was supposed to report to Annapolis, her father was struck by lightning and killed; devastating loss; lots of community support; reported to Naval Academy and went through plebe summer, but realized things were falling apart at home; decided to go home for a year, but went back to Annapolis; she knew Navy was her ticket out of small town Wisconsin. (04:20) Interning at State Department, working on Iraq sanctions and Middle East peacekeeping operations from June to December 2001; experiences on September 11. (04:31) Talked into becoming military assistant to a deputy undersecretary for wounded warrior care and transition policy, which opened up a new direction for her, taking care of veterans and their families; transition out of the military to non-profit work. (02:11)
Decided to take a trip to celebrate 40th birthday; went to Vietnam; went to the orphanage where she had been adopted; hearing from the nuns about her adoption experience; visiting the embassy, which did a press release; media coverage; being contacted by the South Vietnamese Marine who delivered her to the orphanage and named her. (07:49) Impact of her service on her life; it gave her confidence, discipline, structure, focus; helped foster an appreciation of those who serve, which informs her current work with veterans’ organizations. (01:50) 
  
 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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