Navy Commander Challenges Midshipmen to Find Their “Battle Rhythm”

Commander Kathryn “Kat” Sampson Wijnaldum

Posted October 18, 2021

For Cmdr. Kathryn “Kat” Sampson Wijnaldum, serving in the armed forces has had its challenges. In addition to being a woman and Afro-Cuban, she also became a wife and mother all while moving up the military ranks to command a naval ship. She has carried a lot of responsibility on her shoulders.

But Wijnaldum’s desire to be an example and inspire others motivated her to develop personal and professional habits that have set her up for success. She calls it her “battle rhythm.”

“I posture myself where I can serve without limitations,” she said. “I want to be all I can be to those I come across.”

Wijnaldum made a visit to Georgia Tech and met with the Institute’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps on Oct. 7. The ROTC is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

She spoke to the group of midshipmen about her journey to becoming a commanding officer in the Navy.

Early on in Wijnaldum’s naval career, there were many challenges. As one of the few minority female officers during her assignment on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, she admits she was outspoken and sometimes made comments that made people uncomfortable.

“I became so focused on my shell and how it would influence how junior minority sailors saw me. I took it personal,” she recalled. “The remainder of that 24-month tour was hell. I burned professional bridges, and it was hard to overcome.

“But this is just a shell; underneath it, we all bleed red.”

That moment reset her outlook on her career and brought about personal growth that has paid off. Wijnaldum found ways to balance the needs of her family with those of the men and women who looked to her for leadership.

In the end, her achievements led her from graduating the United States Naval Academy in 2001 with a degree in Political Science to being appointed as one of four women of color to command a naval ship, the USS Oak Hill.

“Pressure, although uncomfortable, gets you out of your comfort zone, and it’s necessary,” she said. “From that pressure gets birthed an understanding of your talent.”

Wijnaldum imparted three personal mantras to the midshipmen to guide them as they embarked on their naval officer careers: Family first, service always; embrace, explore, and appreciate the Navy’s melting pot; and stay in the arena.

Embracing the assistance and help of others to complete qualifications and rise in ranks, Wijnaldum said, helped her master obstacles and gain personal wins.

“If you have the talent, drive, and you are committed, our service will empower you with the knowledge, tools, and resources to do the job,” she said. “And when you’re in the job, surround yourself with people or have programs that will facilitate your success.

“I encourage you to look at yourself within.”





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