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NEWS | Nov. 9, 2023

Veteran unexpectedly finds next career in Sweet Home Alabama

By Michelle L. Gordon

Katina Yarbough was in JROTC all four years of high school — an experience that shaped her and led her to make one of the most important decisions of her life. 

“I kind of knew through that journey that I was going to go into the military,” she said. “It was just something that I felt comfortable doing. I appreciated the structure. I appreciated the leadership. I liked wearing the uniform. I liked the PT aspect of it and the camaraderie and team building. I felt surrounded by family when I was in JROTC.”

Deciding to join the Army was easy. Convincing her mother was the more significant challenge for Yarbough. Although the Petersburg, Virginia native grew up just five miles from Fort Gregg-Adams (known as Fort Lee until 2023), no one in her family had served in the military, and her mom was concerned.

“She automatically assumed I was going to war, even though there wasn’t a war going on,” she said with a chuckle. “I pleaded, and she finally gave me her blessing, so I signed up. Originally, I was a reservist, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to go active duty.”

Yarbough served in the Army Reserve for a year before swapping to active duty.

Her first duty assignment was Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where she was a petroleum laboratory specialist testing aviation fuel. Following that assignment, she went to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia. While there, she was encouraged to submit a packet for Officer Candidate School. Upon graduating from the 12-week program, Yarbough was a commissioned military police officer. However, she said she was not cut out to be an MP. 

“I remember the first time I was driving my MP car, and I needed to pull somebody over,” she said. “I just did not have the heart to write a ticket. I knew at that moment it was time for me to find my calling.”

Yarbough requested a branch transfer to become an adjutant general officer and never looked back. Also known as human resources officers, AG officers are responsible for providing personnel support that affects Soldiers’ overall well-being while assisting commanders by accounting for and keeping Soldiers combat-ready.

Yarbough had found her calling. As an AG officer, she served on the Pentagon joint staff, deployed to Kuwait twice, and was a battalion commander at Fort Meade, Maryland. 

After 27 years on active duty, she decided to retire in early 2020, which she said was good timing because, like many parents, she became a makeshift teacher for her nine-year-old daughter during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Yarbough and her husband were still determining where to settle following her retirement, but they were confident they wanted to move out of the National Capital Region. 

One of her friends had recently retired in Huntsville, Alabama, and she mentioned it to Yarbough. She was skeptical but decided to visit.

“I did not have a lot of high hopes, but I decided to visit,” she said. “My husband and I came down for a weekend and loved it. It felt like family. It felt comfortable. It felt slower.”

Two weeks later, they signed a contract to build a house and began focusing on retirement. 

Yarbough said she took a much-needed break between her military retirement and joining the civilian workforce. She joined the PTA at her daughter’s school, explored the many walking trails in the Huntsville area, and did all the things she never had time to enjoy while serving on active duty.

Earlier this year, with her son at the University of Alabama and her daughter thriving in middle school, Yarbough began looking at her subsequent career, which she found at the Aviation and Missile Command.

She now works in the G-2 front office, where she is a senior administrative officer.

“I am the customer service representative and the primary advisor to the deputy and the director on all G-2 matters related to HR,” she said. “We support four divisions, which is about 106 civilian employees. We are responsible for developing and implementing HR policy in accordance with DoD and Army regulations. We also manage hiring actions, awards, training, assignments, retirements and onboarding — essentially all things personnel-related. At the end of the day, our mission is to provide uninterrupted HR support and excellent customer service to our amazing workforce so they can focus on their mission.”

Yarbough said she loves her new position, and she was very selective when it came to choosing her post-retirement career.

“I wanted to make sure that I would enjoy what I was going to do, and I didn’t want to go from one stressful job to the next. I was praying that I would find an organization where I could really add value and be a team member, and I actually found that on the first try. It has been a great three months, and I am looking forward to being here for a long time.”