Fortitude Forged in Northwest Texas

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anita Chebahtah | December 01, 2022

MANAMA, Bahrain --

It was seven years ago one night aboard USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) when then-Lt. Katherine Vester noticed her ankles were swollen. The amphibious assault ship was operating in the Gulf of Aden, and Vester didn't think much of it until the swelling remained a week later.


The ship doctor prescribed medication that helped, but it wasn't enough because a short time later a nurse noticed her labored breathing. She eventually had to be flown off the ship to Djibouti for transport to Portsmouth, Virginia, where she learned she had Graves' disease and required a surgical procedure to remove her thyroid.


One might assume this experience changed her perspective, but for Vester this wasn’t the case. She learned strength and resilience early in life from the women who raised her in Lubbock, Texas.


Vester comes from a large family. She spent much of her childhood at a Texas countryside home her grandparents owned. Vester's family knew the home as their main gathering place where her granny cooked every meal and dessert from scratch, something Vester does today.


She was often attached to one her aunts helping raise rabbits, chickens and hogs; snap peas; and pick pecans. Her heart of strength, compassion and wisdom was forged during these moments.


This is the essence of who Vester is that has enabled her to navigate numerous challenging circumstances over a 29-year naval career. She initially joined the service as an undesignated seaman in 1993 and received her commission as a limited duty officer 13 years later. Now a Navy commander, Vester currently assists the U.S. 5th Fleet commander in all administrative duties as flag secretary.


In addition to her primary job, Vester facilitates a leadership course for service members that promotes values she embodies. She is one of four moderators for U.S. 5th Fleet's Treasures of the Nation program that offers practical leadership tools useful at every level and encourages self-reflection to enable personal and professional growth.


“I like taking care of people, being invested and watching them grow,” said Vester. “People are worth it. Whether it’s a few extra seconds, extra folders on my desk, or speaking up on behalf of someone else – they are worth it.”


After nearly three decades in the Navy, Vester isn't done yet. She continues to serve and lift up those around her by being who she is.


“I’m still having fun,” she said. “That’s why I’m still here.”