Jennifer Tetatzin

Wife, Mother, Officer – and One Smart Engineer
LCDR Jennifer Tetatzin, Civil Engineering Corps, USN

“When I meet younger women in the Navy or considering the Navy, the biggest fear they have is that they won’t be able to be an Officer, an engineer, and also a mother or wife. I have found that you can do it. It’s hard work, but you can do it.”
— LCDR Jennifer Tetatzin, Civil Engineering Corps, USN

Partway through earning her bachelor’s degree in engineering at California State University, Sacramento, Jennifer Tetatzin had come to two conclusions.

“I knew I did not want to be working and doing the same thing for the next 40 years. And paying my way through school…paying my own living expenses…working 40 hours a week and taking 18 credits a semester…it was really exhausting.”

Fortunately, she came across a collegiate program that allowed her to quit her full-time job and focus on her studies. That program was courtesy of the Navy, and LCDR Tetatzin was commissioned into Active Duty in the Civil Engineering Corps in 1997.

In the 15 years since, the Navy has helped the 37-year-old pay for her master’s in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. It’s also allowed her to see the world and make a difference in the lives of people across the globe.

“The Philippines was my very first deployment. I was the only Officer and a female too. I was living in a tent and working through monsoons and all of these challenges, but we cleared the jungle…laid a foundation…built an airfield. And my Seabees (my troops who were working for me) amazed me every single day with their hard work and ingenuity.”

LCDR Tetatzin points out some important differences between the Navy and civilian engineering. “In the military, you’re given huge responsibility right away. I was out on my own in a foreign country at the age of 24 and I don’t think any civilian company would’ve done that.”

She continues, “We also hold many different positions over our career. In your junior years, you might manage six or eight folks. But as you get more senior, you take on more responsibility. For my biggest leadership role, I had 315 people who worked for me in three countries – Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

LCDR Tetatzin enjoys being a part of an organization of service. “As an engineer in the Navy, we’re not here to turn a profit,” she says. “We’re trying to do the right thing…all the time.”

During her career, she’s traveled the world, called places from Hawaii to Virginia to Tennessee home, and built a family. “I am particularly proud to be able to have two children, a husband, a successful career and also be respected as a pretty smart engineer.”

To those who may be interested in doing the kinds of things she’s done, she offers this advice: “The confidence and growth that you will experience by going into the Navy is well worth taking a chance on.”

It’s What We Do

“My most recent deployment was to Eastern Africa. We were based in Djibouti first, right next door to Somalia. They are so poor with very harsh living conditions.

We have water-well drilling rigs on a truck. We took a couple of trucks out and a few Seabees, set up camp and drilled, producing fresh water. That one well reduced the distance villagers had to walk to collect drinking water from 12 miles to 4.

Such a simple thing. Such a huge impact.

We also took a team to Ethiopia. Scoping out 12 sites. Meeting with village elders to find out where they needed water most and where they’d tried before.

One of the elders asked me, ‘Why are you here?’ I said we are here to drill for water. He persisted. ‘But why did you come all the way from the United States of America to Ethiopia to bring us water?’

We’re Seabees. That’s what we do.”

— LCDR Jennifer Tetatzin, Civil Engineering Corps, USN