CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Sgt. Catherine E. Spruill knew she wanted to be a part of the military before she even went to kindergarten.
“I always said I want to marry somebody in the military — because both of my parents were in the military and I liked the lifestyle of just always having that family feeling — and my dad was like, ‘you don’t have to marry somebody in the military, you can be in the military,’” the Merritt, North Carolina native said. “I was like ‘oh, I didn’t know that was possible,’ you know, as a little five year old, and so it was kind of always just a plan of mine.”
Spruill, 23, is currently assigned to the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and has been deployed here supporting the 1st Theater Sustainment Command. 1st TSC is responsible for sustainment operations throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
The sergeant took a few moments away from supervising her Soldiers, fellow wheeled vehicle mechanics, and lending a hand in the motor pool to talk about why she serves.
‘Our own little trio’
Spruill grew up near the Neuse, the widest river in North Carolina, with her parents, Woody and Sarah.
“My mom’s the youngest of 10, my dad’s the youngest of five, so I have a very large family, but we’re just kind of like our own little trio,” the sergeant said. “My parents, I love them to death, they’re such wonderful people.”
Woody and Sarah met when they were both serving in the avionics field in the Marine Corps. Sarah ended her tour of service in the early 90s because her aircraft, the OV-10 Bronco, was retired, but Woody went on to retire from the service as a gunnery sergeant.
Spruill said she gets a lot of her selflessness from her father. Since he retired from the Marine Corps he has worked as a reserve police officer, a rescue diver, an emergency medical technician, and as a fire fighter.
“He is unconditionally in love with his community,” the sergeant said. “He says, ‘I can show the people around me that I love them by showing my community how much I care.’ I’ve always appreciated that about him.”
Spruill maintained her desire to serve in the military up to adulthood, but was plagued with doubts about her capabilities. “I didn’t think I was good enough for it,” she said.
The sergeant found herself at a fork in the road when she told her fiancé that instead of getting married and becoming a stay at home wife, she wanted to enlist.
“My fiancé was not happy about it, and I was like well, if I don’t do it I’m always going to regret it so, if you don’t support me I can always support myself, so I joined,” Spruill said.
The sergeant enlisted on March 6, 2017, and shipped off for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Lee, Virginia, to become a wheeled vehicle mechanic.
“I actually chose this because I knew absolutely nothing about mechanics when I joined,” the sergeant said. “I wanted something that I had never done before so that I could truly learn about it, and learn about it every day.”
Spruill said despite not knowing anything about the field, she graduated third in her class at AIT. She credits her success to throwing herself head first into her studies and having an honest desire to learn.
The sergeant said maintaining that desire to learn has helped her come to love her profession as a mechanic and a Soldier.
“Hydraulic systems have kind of been my baby, and anything having to do with a brake drum system — like the hubs on an LMTV — those are always fun because it’s so methodical,” she said. “In my last unit we replaced like six engines [and] it was a very big learning experience to realize that you don’t have to have the perfect equipment all the time—a lot of things in the military are designed to be able to be replaced or be able to be fixed even if you don’t have everything that you need.”
Spruill embarked on a new round of learning when she became a noncommissioned officer on Oct. 1, 2021.
“There’s a lot more responsibility, but something that I noticed [is] the part of the job that I enjoy, and the most rewarding part of the job, has been the job of an NCO,” the sergeant said. “You have the space to be able to help people, you have the resources to be able to change things.
“When you have this group of people and they finally start to turn into a team, and not just a gaggle of random strangers, that’s just a rewarding feeling,” she continued. “Knowing that it may not have been completely you—but that the people that you’re in charge of have finally started to work together, and they’ve started to really create something strategic and beautiful in a way—I have been so thankful within this motor pool in particular.”
‘It’s made me a lot more compassionate of an NCO’
As is true with most success stories, Spruill has faced her fair share of challenges to get to where she is today.
Her first challenge was being the only female in her advanced individual training class. She said her platoon sergeant told her on the first day that she needed to have thick skin and that she would only be taken seriously in their male-dominated field if she could prove she knew what she was talking about.
“I started finding leaders and aligning with people that had the same intentions that I did, and had the same issues early on as I did,” Spruill said. “It made it a lot easier to want to come to work, to want to work hard for these people.”
The sergeant also survived a sexual assault at her first duty station. She said she was stunned because she had felt like “one of the guys,” and thought that because she acted like “one of the guys” that something like that would not happen to her.
“I went through a very big identity crisis after — and that’s very normal — but it helped me realize I don’t have to be a masculine woman or an aggressive woman to be taken seriously in a male-dominated MOS.
“I can be myself and still be taken seriously, and still expect other people to take me seriously, and that’s been probably the best thing that has come out of that,” she continued. “And I think it’s made me a lot more compassionate of an NCO.”
Spruill said she is proud of her service and how much she has grown as a person and a daughter.
“It was never about making my parents proud, because I knew that I could be a jelly bean juggler and they would be proud of me,” the sergeant said. “But it kind of became something that not only we all had in common just by itself, but it was another way that we were connected, and another way that we understood one another, and that’s something that nobody else in my family has.”