This summer, veterans Elizabeth Yeo and Cecilie Korst shared their stories of service in the U.S. military with members of the Ebell. Korst, who served for 22 years in the Air Force, and Yeo, who served four years in the Navy, talked about why they joined, what their experience was like, and how they transitioned back to civilian life. With their permission, here are some highlights from their talk in honor of Veteran’s Day.
At the time of Yeo and Korst’s talk, it was early in the pandemic shutdown and Ebell members were anxious to connect with each other. So they started a series of Zoom conversations, called ‘Spotlights,’ for members to get to know each other. Korst and Yeo kicked off the series, discussing their experiences serving in the United States armed forces.
Yeo said that, for her, joining the military was all about getting out of Cleveland, her home town.
“I just wanted to get out and see the world,” said Yeo. Her dream came true, and she spent her entire four years of service outside the United States.
“I was just 18 when I signed up, but waited until I was 19 to enter because my school wasn’t ready yet.”
Yeo had chosen to train for a job in cryptology. When you enlist in the military, the first thing they do is give you and aptitude test and place you in the best career position, explained Yeo. Her first deployment after basic training was in Portugal, where she learned about vineyards for the first time.
Meanwhile, Korst chose the Air Force, where she trained to be a mechanic because she could travel with her plane, which also carried her name on its side.
While neither of the two women joined the military for patriotic reasons, they both said they became patriotic during their tenure, which started with basic training, where it’s routine for new recruits to arrive at night after a long day of traveling.
“It’s scary,” said Yeo. “I wondered, “Am I really doing this?” It was a real challenge, you are thrown in with a real mix of people. You get up the next day and never stop moving for the next three months.”
Korst explained that bootcamp lasts from six-eight weeks with male and female crews on flights.
“It’s like summer camp, but not that nice,” said Korst. “There’s no privacy, everything is together.”
Both explained that bootcamp is the military’s way of breaking soldiers down so they can build you back up with discipline and training…and it worked. And since they went through it, the process has only gotten better, explained Korst. It used be a lot more physical, she said, but now that’s not considered appropriate. But there is real conditioning that takes place. Also, she said, there are cameras everywhere, and abuse doesn’t happen. However, harassment is still rampant. According to Korst and Yeo, “The military is still a boys’ club. It’s unfortunate and it’s a reality, [but] women learn the rules and get used to it.”
While both Korst and Yeo learned how to deal with it, they would definitely like to see everyone treated equally, and they welcome recent changes. For example, when Yeo joined, women in her job category were not able to serve onboard ships, but now they can.
Korst shared a remark she heard from the first female F-35 fighter pilot, which she hoped would someday become the norm: “I’m a brain and in this package I can fly a fighter plane really well. Let’s just treat each other like we’re all just brains. We can throw out sexism and racism, and get to work,” Korst quoted.
Overall, military service was an incredible learning experience for both Ebell members. As a cryptology technician, Yeo provided technical and tactical communications and guidance in support of surface, subsurface, air, and special warfare operations as directed by the Department of Defense or the White House. Her assignments were always co-located with the Marines. Though she left after her four years of service, Yeo said she still calls on all the knowledge she gained while serving, like etiquette training, which taught her how to dine with a 12-place setting.
“We were representing the nation; we had to be prepared to interact with diplomats,” said Yeo.
Building on those skills influenced a career spanning three decades and six industries: IT, Accounting, Bookkeeping, Office Management, Administrative & Executive Support, and Business Development. Eventually, she left the corporate world, worked in the small business sector, and has now is the Founder and CEO of Veteran Charities Initiative, a change-management and consulting firm.
Korst started as a mechanic, got a degree in architecture, became an officer and moved into communications. She served for a time as a civil engineer, building secret projects for the Pentagon, but then decided that was enough. Now she has a website design and marketing firm.
The transition out of the service was not easy for either of the women, and they are both committed to helping other vets get established in civilian life.
“It’s hard to leave the military, where everything is provided for you — housing, clothing, childcare, groceries, etc.,” explained Korst. “And salaries don’t always translate.”
“One of the biggest challenges is getting out,” said Yeo. “We are deeply trained for service but there’s almost no preparation for transitioning out, and some people stay in because transitioning out is really scary. There’s a real loss of community too.”
Korst said public opinion of the military is a huge factor for success in starting a new life. Many Vietnam-era vets really struggled with the return to civilian life, and it’s only recently that the nation has shown more appreciation to those leaving service, observed Korst.
During the pandemic, Yeo decided to start a non-profit, Veteran Charities Initiative, to advocate for the health, well-being, and welfare of women veterans and those in underserved communities and demographics. Recently, she joined up Operation Confidence, a 501 © 3 organization dedicated to helping disabled veterans, to co-host a talk show on KCAA Radio every Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Both Korst and Yeo were said they were drawn to the Ebell, an historic women’s club, to help the club develop a veteran’s component. They contend that veterans should be part of every organization because of their extensive leadership skills and the way they are trained to be open minded and inclusive.
“All veterans have leadership experience. Most people just don’t appreciate the vast experience vets have,” said Korst.
Thanks to Korst and Yeo for their service and for allowing us to share their stories. Happy Veteran’s Day!
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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