Kathryn Brainerd is a senior from Corcoran, Minn. pursuing a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota Crookston in Natural Resources with an emphasis in Park Management. Before Brainerd stepped foot on the campus, she spent five and a half years traveling the world with the United States Navy and serving her country.
After graduating high school, Brainerd attended Rochester Community and Technical College to pursue a degree in law enforcement and to continue her athletic career playing collegiate soccer. She began to feel that being in school at this time wasn’t the right fit for her, so Brainerd joined the Navy to take a break.
Brainerd wanted to join the Navy because she wanted to see the world and travel.
Brainerd’s sister served in the United States Marine Corps for three and a half years before being medically discharged. Brainerd attributes part of the reason why she joined the Navy to seeing how much her twin sister enjoyed her time serving.
Brainerd served from March 24, 2015 - August 23, 2020. She was stationed in Bremerton, Washington at three different commands and finished at a MA3 (Master of Arms third class), E4 (enlisted four rank) rank. Her first command was on an aircraft carrier called the U.S.S. John C. Stennis. Brainerd worked in the first division deck department where she was in charge of the preservation of the ship, several different watches such as aft and forward lookouts, helm (where you drive the ship) and lee helm (where you control the speed), UNREPS (underway replenishments), and sea and anchor (where you moor in and out of ports or drop the anchor). She recalls a big project during deployment was painting an American flag the size of a basketball court on the ceiling of the ship.
While on deployment in 2016, the Stennis made port visits to Guam, South Korea, Singapore, Manila, and lastly, Pearl Harbor.
Wanting to become a Master of Arms, Brainerd joined the Navy as an undesignated seaman so she could get to the fleet sooner. While attached to the John C. Stennis and waiting to pick up the MA rate, she worked in the security department when the ship was in port. Brainerd was given an MA "A" School Billet starting in August 2017, so she detached from the Stennis in July of 2017.
This led her to San Antonio, Texas for training where she picked up her MA3, E4 rank.
After her time in Texas, Brainerd got orders back to the state of Washington at Naval Base Kitsap, Silverdale with Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion (MCSFBn). MCSFBn is a command within NBK-Silverdale that is in charge of the transportation of strategic assets from base to our submarines.
Unfortunately, an injury to her knee caused Brainerd to be disqualified from working there. She was sent to the legal office, Defense Service Office West, where she stayed for two and a half years. She was responsible for interviewing witnesses and combing through evidence, visiting clients, family members, sailors, coast guardsmen, and marines to help the attorneys.
While on port visits, one of Brainerd’s favorite spots was Busan, South Korea because there were a lot of beautiful temples and she thought the rich history was interesting to learn about and experience. Brainerd jokes that South Korea was “colder than Crookston!” She quipped that she also learned how to layer clothing while deployed in South Korea for seven months.
Brainerd enjoyed Singapore, another one of her favorite port visits, because of its cleanliness.
“Their people are very dedicated to preserving the beauty of the country,” Brainerd said.
Brainerd notes that when she watches the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, she always thinks about how she has been to many of the destinations shown in the film.
In the summer of 2023, Brainerd was able to backpack in Europe for a month and spent time in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, and Austria. She hopes to expand on her travels in the future.
Recalling some of the most rewarding experiences while serving, Brainerd jokes, “The Navy gave me my Level 1 OC Spray Certification for my 21st birthday present.”
In this certification test, Brainerd was pepper sprayed right across the brow, from ear to ear. In the first station, they were required to do mock takedowns before moving on to baton swings, and kicks and punches to a bag, before finally facing the “red man.” The “red man” was a very large man who was decked out in padding and Brainerd was tasked with fighting someone much larger than her. Brainerd says that showers for the next week were “brutal” due to the reflash, but she wouldn’t spend her 21st birthday any other way. She celebrated a week later in Guam.
The U.S. Navy was also where Brainerd met her best friend, Sydney. They met at the Securities Bravo class while on deployment. Brainerd notes that she really enjoyed this class because she got to learn self defense.
Following the ship’s swim qualification over Mariana’s Trench, Brainerd got to have free time in the ocean along with some of the thousands of others that were deployed with her. Brainerd says there were “apparently no sharks,” that she knew of anyway, while they were swimming.
“I loved the underways, but wasn’t too thrilled about the 16-20 hour (work) days,” she added. “However, I loved being on the ocean and seeing the water and the sunsets. It was the best sleep of my life too!”
Though the days were long, Brainerd looked forward to receiving care packages from her mom. Sometimes these packages could take up to two months to be delivered. She remembers getting a birthday card in April when her birthday was in February. The packages were filled with nonperishable items, coloring books, products, crossword puzzles, any of her recent snack cravings, and baked goods. These care packages really helped Brainerd connect with her family back home while she was deployed.
After serving her country, Brainerd was ready to come back to school. She says the U of M Crookston was always on her radar, but she initially opted for a school closer to home.
“Crookston had it all, small classes, small campus, soccer, natural resources major, and they offered the most VA housing assistance,” Brainerd explained.
Brainerd began her journey as a Golden Eagle in Spring 2021. She maxed out her eligibility playing goalie and defense for the U of M Crookston soccer team, and returned in Fall 2023 as their student assistant coach.
“When I stepped foot on campus, a lot of the soccer team thought I was going to be big, mean, and scary because they heard they had a new teammate joining the team from the Navy,” Brainerd recalled.
The team is no longer “scared” of Brainerd, and have embraced her as the “team grandma.” Brainerd lives up to the name by going to bed at 8:30 p.m. every night and baking cookies for the team. She has created many friendships and jokes that she will “send the fleet” if anyone hurts her teammates.
Brainerd fits right into the campus culture, and also works as the student manager of the Wellness Center.
When she graduates after the Fall 2023 semester, Brainerd hopes she will be able to continue traveling. Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania are on her bucket list.
“Nothing is set in stone yet, but I hope to keep traveling as much as I can!” Brainerd says hopefully.