JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Kaitlyn Simerly may have graduated from high school without a clear direction for her future, but when she visited a Navy Recruiter in Johnson City, the now 26-year-old said one thing was perfectly clear.

“I said, ‘This is what I want to do,'” she said. “I want to be a hospital corpsman. I don’t want any other job. Don’t offer them to me. If I don’t get that job, I’m not going.'”

The Navy agreed to her terms, and over the next four-and-a-half years while assigned to Paris Island, South Carolina and Camp Pendleton, California, Simerly said she grew up.

Simerly says she didn’t have a clear direction at first but found her focus as a Navy Medical Corpsman. (Photo: Kaitlyn Simerly)

“I was lacking a lot of perspective and diversity,” she said. “I didn’t know that I was lacking it, and then I left and everything changed. It created me, and 26-year-old me is like, ‘who was the 20-year-old me?'”

After the Navy, Simerly wanted to come home. Instead of continuing a medical career, she started fresh as a real estate agent in the Tri-Cities.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “I love my first-time buyers, especially. I get to help them live out their dreams.”

Simerly said she’s been surprised by the level of her success after the Navy, and she’s been surprised by something else.

“When people think of a veteran, they don’t see me,” she said. “I think that they see maybe an older adult who has the hat. And I love those guys. I love those people, but that’s not me.”

Simerly takes part in physical training in this undated photo. “Everything changed,” she said of her time in service. “It created me.” (Photo: Kaitlyn Simerly)

Simerly believes it’s a common challenge facing young women veterans nationwide. In her experience, civilians aren’t the ones struggling to accept her and other vets her age.

“I think that they are just like, ‘Oh, great. Thank you for your service. I would have never known that you were in service, but thank you.’ The pushback is definitely more from other veterans.”

As a member of the youngest generation of military veterans, Simerly said she’s hoping for improved communication and a new approach to helping veterans after their service is done.

“I think that there’s a need for new perspectives of people who have recently served or have served during the 9-11 era,” she said. “Post-9-11 veterans are the highest rate of military and veterans suicides ever calculated. I think that statistic alone calls for a change in the way that some of our fellow veterans think about how to target our audience.”