"This is about my fourth time in Alaska," Tammy Barlet says in a recent phone call. She was taking a break from her full-time internship at the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership’s Immunization Workgroup – the final requirement for her BS in public health. "It's ironic that I went into the Coast Guard thinking, 'Oh, I'll just get to stay stateside, no problem.' And now I’m looking at a long-term career working for the VFW."
During her first year of military service, the eight-year veteran found herself on a ship in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, and from there she was deployed to Thailand and the Persian Gulf. (So much for plans to stay stateside.) But the wide-ranging tour helped her ultimately get where she always wanted to be: Temple.
"I was interested in going to pharmacy school at Temple, but I had to find a way to pay for it," she says. So she joined the service in 1995 and left in 2003 as an Operations Specialist Third Class Petty Officer, running radar systems and security-sensitive software for both intelligence gathering and search-and-rescue coordination.
In 2001 she suffered a severe accident, and the military helped her transition into civilian life and a new job. Referring to her original plan, she became a pharmacy technician; but 10 years later, her disability started getting in the way.
"I found it very hard to continue to stand on my feet for eight to 10 hours a day," Barlet says. After consulting with a social worker at her local VA clinic, she received a gentle reminder: Her injury classified her as what the military calls a Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation Veteran, which entitled her to some enviable benefits.
"The VA and I have a career plan that enables me to work within my disability and ensures that I make a valuable contribution to society doing something I enjoy and can make a living out of," Barlet says.
She explored some options and landed on public health.
"I can use my knowledge from being a pharmacy technician, and public health opens up a great many doors. With a bachelor's degree you can move into any discipline of the field you want to."
As a career changer and veteran, Barlet needed a program that would be both flexible and challenging – and the BS program in public health gives her plenty of both.
For example, she says, "I wanted to do my full-time internship outside of Philadelphia, and my adviser helped me set out a plan from day one. We figured out how to take the electives that would be best geared to my career goals."
The Call to Help Veterans
The program has also allowed Barlet to apply her work helping other veterans toward her credit requirements. She had accrued 100 volunteer hours at the VA hospital in Philadelphia, where she worked as a hand hygiene observer for the infectious disease and quality assurance department. That 100 hours counted as Continuing Life Experience Credits, which she used as an elective.
As the vice president of the Temple Veterans Association in 2016, Barlet hit her stride as an advocate – not only for student veterans but for veterans throughout the Philadelphia area. And it changed her entire career trajectory.
"I was planning to go into global public health," she says. "Then I went to the National Conference for the Student Veterans of America, where I heard many veteran leaders speak. And they all said that we were all leaders; we're all there for a reason. It's up to veterans to help other veterans, to make sure that the challenges we face are overcome. And it just completely changed my mind." (Read the full story here.)
Now Barlet will take her public health degree into the health policy arena, where she plans to become a veteran advocate. She hopes to enter George Washington University’s online MPH program in health policy in July, during which time she’ll also be completing a six-month assignment as a Mission Continues Fellow (a community engagement program for veterans similar to AmeriCorps) as a policy associate with Student Veterans of America.
The Coast Guard Advantage
Barlet sees distinct advantages in her military and life experience. "I think one of our great strengths is our worldliness," she says of veterans. "We've been away from our friends and families, we've been deployed to areas that not many people get to experience, and we've learned to adapt very quickly, persevere, and multitask. The military mindset teaches attention to detail and hard work."
As for the latter, studying public health introduced Barlet to a more forgiving, compassionate approach to work that balanced and tempered her work ethic.
"Yes, I have deadlines, but if I find myself running behind, I don't have to stress myself out if I communicate with my supervisors and explain the situation to them," she says. "Just making that realization has been invaluable."
Learn more about Tammy Barlet’s story and the dynamic work (and play!) she does for veterans here.
Learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Public Health.