Heather Charara’s eight year career with the U.S. Navy has granted her more opportunities than she could have ever imagined. Throughout her career she has traveled extensively, met new people, and formed lifelong friendships with her fellow officers.
Born to a Lebanese father and German mother, Charara had always had a desire to enter into a career of law enforcement. She spent a year in college after graduating from Crestwood High School in 1999, but soon wanted to pursue other opportunities. After exploring several options and spending some time speaking to local recruiters in order to gain a clearer understanding of what the Navy was actually like, she enlisted at the age of 19.
“The Navy is very unique in that it offers opportunities unlike any of the other armed services,” Charara said. “I wanted to be a part of the military, but I was not looking to become a soldier. Finding out about all the great humanitarian work the Navy does was what made me want to be a part of it.”
Charara said that while most of her friends were supportive of her decision to join the Navy, her family was somewhat hesitant about her chosen career path. It was only after taking her father to meet with recruiters, who fully explained the benefits of the Navy’s programs, that they began to stand behind her decision.
“This was not the career that my family really preferred for me,” she said. “After taking my father to meet with the recruiters, who explained all that the Navy had to offer me, he gave me his full support.”
One of the things Charara enjoys most about life in the Navy is traveling to different parts of the world. During her eight years with the Navy, Charara has traveled to twenty seven different countries, including a four year stay in Italy. She said that traveling to various parts of the world exposed her to different cultures and lifestyles.
“I had always wanted to travel, and the Navy has given me that opportunity to see places I never thought I could,” said Charara. “I have done things like ski in the Swiss Alps, visit concentration camps in Germany, and eat dinner on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. These experiences will stay with me forever.”
Charara said that while traveling was a wonderful experience, she was also grateful for the extensive training she received at sea. During the first six years of her service, Charara worked as a firefighter while at sea. As a firefighter, she was part of a team that handled first-on-the-scene response. Charara said that the training she received during that time was invaluable. She said that her ultimate goal after leaving the Navy is to work in emergency disaster aid and relief, and her experiences as a firefighter have left her well-prepared for a career in that field.
Charara said that although she was often deployed overseas for extended periods of time, she never felt too far away from her family and friends. All of the ships she was stationed on came equipped with things like Internet cafes, webcams, and phones, which allow sailors to keep in touch with their families on a daily basis. Additionally, Charara was able to complete the majority of her college education while in service. The Navy, which provides 100 percent tuition assistance to officers who wish to attend college, offers full-time courses aboard their ships.
Charara said that being in the Navy feels less like a job and more like a community. She found this to be true after the events of September 11. Immediately after the attacks took place, Charara flew out to meet her ship at sea. At a time where things were uncertain, Charara was nervous and unsure about what kind of reception she would receive. Much to her surprise, she found that her supervisors and fellow co-workers were more concerned for her well-being than anything else. She said that the support she received during this time reaffirmed the care and respect she had for her fellow sailors.
“Being an Arab American is something I’m proud of, and everyone aboard my ship knew it,” she said. “Meeting up with my fellow officers, just days after 9/11, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was completely overwhelmed by how people reacted to me. That’s when I truly realized that in addition to my family at home, I also have a family in the Navy. We look out for each other and take care of one another.”
Charara said that this support has been consistent throughout her entire career with the Navy. Charara, who is Muslim, would observe the month of Ramadan while aboard her ship. She said that after meeting with her chain of command on the ship and explaining the basics of fasting, she found that they were very accommodating of her needs. As a result, her daily schedule was altered so that she could eat when she was supposed to. She said that overall, everyone on board supported and respected her duties as a Muslim.
Although she greatly enjoyed her experiences at sea, Charara said she is happiest working near home. In her current position as a Navy Counselor, First Class, she oversees the largest recruiting station in Michigan. At her office in Westland, she supervises five recruiters and spends much of her time speaking to younger people who have an interest in joining the Navy.
Charara said that she enjoys working in her own community, and particularly likes the initiatives that the Navy implements on a local level. Just last week, they joined with high school students in Dearborn for the Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge, a program that uses the Navy SEAL standards of physical fitness to test the public on their current fitness level. Dearborn was one of only three cities in the entire country selected to take part in this year’s program. Charara said that this year’s program was immensely successful.
“I really love what I do,” said Charara. “Not everyone knows about all the great work the Navy does. I am proud to be a part of that.”