When Jackie O’Malley graduated from an all-female Catholic high school and started Navy boot camp, she was one of the youngest recruits and the only member of her graduating class to join the military.
She never envisioned being in a combat zone as an 18-year-old, but credits five years in the Navy, half of which she spent on sea duty, for opening her eyes to how people in other parts of the world live.
Jackie was awarded medals for her service in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She discussed her experiences with Vita.
Tell us about your decision to enter the military.
I was in high school in Illinois when 9/11 happened and it got me thinking about the military as a post-graduation option. I also knew that I eventually wanted to pursue higher education and knew the military offered education benefits.
I served in the Navy from 2004 to 2009, spending half of my time on a ship and half of my time as a Hospital Corpsman on the critical cardiac care floor of a military hospital in Virginia. Whether I was halfway around the world or in the cardiac unit, I was humbled and touched by the opportunity to make a difference.
What were the next steps in your career, following five years in the Navy?
After I earned a degree in biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a staffing company introduced me to CSL Behring, where I have been employed since 2013.
Today I am a Senior Quality Assurance Operations Specialist. My responsibilities include ensuring our manufacturing processes are working correctly and that our medicines are of the highest quality. I take the job very seriously because I know that patients rely on the medicines we make.
How does your military experience translate to CSL Behring?
The military trains you to get a job done in high stress environments, and the ability to succeed in a high stress situation is a skill applicable to any job.
Part of my military experience included direct work with cardiac patients, and today I am ensuring the quality of medicines to help people live full lives. So I really like that connection – knowing that my work makes a difference.
How does the company acknowledge employees who are veterans?
At its site in Kankakee, Illinois, CSL Behring has a number of veterans. We swap stories and have friendly competitions about which branch of the military is greater. (I make sure they know that Navy is the best.)
There is even a photo wall of veteran employees onsite. I was reluctant to request that my name and photo be added to the wall, but a colleague and fellow veteran actually did it for me. It was really sweet and endearing to be acknowledged in that way. Every time a new photo and name are added, the company has a ceremony. People are always stopping to look at the photos.
What is your advice for other veterans?
When you’re on active duty, you have a clear mission and there are military-style consequences if you don’t carry out the mission. When you enter civilian life, it’s up to you to stay motivated. Decide for yourself what your mission is then work to accomplish it every day.
What is your advice for people supporting a colleague or loved one on active duty?
Send letters and send care packages. Sometimes your letter is the only connection a person on active duty has to the outside world. I remember getting a care package with snacks and my favorite shampoo and conditioner, all of which felt like connections to home. It’s the little things that keep your spirits up.
What is something about being a veteran that surprises you?
When my husband and I attend events for veterans, people assume he is the veteran. They ask when and where he served. He answers the questions (like me, he was in the Navy) but quickly points out that I served too.