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Hannah Gressett, Ready to Launch

Hannah Gressett is a college senior scheduled to graduate The University of West Florida this coming summer with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, and a minor in Child Welfare. Hannah is the daughter of Technical Sergeant (TSgt) David Gressett, USAF, who lost his life in 2004 while assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron, 27th Special Operations Wing (SOW), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s College to Career Transition (C2C) program is the final element for accomplishing the Foundation’s number one goal: ensuring student success. C2C prepares students for a strong finish by preparing them to launch from their college experience onto the landing pad of life. Students participate in career shadowing, internships, study abroad, and are offered mentors for their respective career. Each of these opportunities ensures the student builds a strong professional network or community of support for their next venture, whether it is entering a career or pursuing graduate school. Jess Bolen, Corporate Relations Manager for SOWF, was recently able to spend time talking with Hannah about her experience with C2C. Pictured above (L-R) on the day of Hannah’s Career Shadow is Lisa DeLong, Hannah’s Scholarships & Family Outreach Counselor, Hannah Gressett and LCDR (Ret) Edie Rosenthal, Senior Director of Programs.

By Jess Bolen

Fresh-faced and smiling, Hannah Gressett shakes my hand with warmth. Meeting her for the first time at a 30-year old award-winning Mexican restaurant in the Tampa Bay area adds a little festivity to the occasion. After lunch, Hannah will proceed to Tampa Preparatory School, for an inspiring career shadow experience with two truly accommodating education professionals — one, a middle school science teacher with a background in psychology, the other, a high school guidance counselor. 

Once settled, I ask Hannah what the impact of SOWF has been for her. “ The day I found out that my dad had passed away, I did not want to believe what I was being told. I didn’t understand what was happening. I mostly remember my mom sitting us girls down and telling us that our dad is not ever coming home,” she says. “As I got older, I came to see that Special Operations Warrior Foundation are people who support and care for the children who lost a parent to service of their country. Because of this, SOWF has become like a family to me.” 

Hannah was five years old — one month shy of her sixth birthday — when her father, Technical Sergeant David Gressett, lost his life in 2004. Hannah tears up when talking about her father, his gravesite, and mourning his loss.

TSgt David G. Gressett with his daughters (L–R) Hannah, Katherine, and Courtney.

“The most challenging thing about the loss of my father is that he will miss the big moments in my life and my two sisters’ lives. And not just the big moments. I remember when he helped coach my tee-ball team. I remember him teaching me how to swing a baseball bat.”

“Special Operations Warrior Foundation wants to see me thrive in anything I do. And not only me but all the students who are part of the SOWF scholarship and family outreach programs. I am currently participating in the College to Career Transition Program through Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Based on this coaching, I would like to pursue becoming a special education teacher for elementary or middle school students. I would like to show children that even though you may have special needs, your disability does not define who you are or who you can become.”

“I want to turn my experience into good — showing people that even though you go through difficult times in your life, terrific things can come from those moments. No matter what you do, someone is always proud of you.”

As we approach the end of our conversation while foregoing dessert, I ask how SOWF has helped connect her to people going through similar situations after the loss of a parent. Hannah’s eyes light up as she starts to talk about some of the connections she has made over the years through SOWF programs and events. 

TSgt David Gressett, USAF, lost his life in 2004 while assigned to the 16 Special Operations Squadron, 27th Special Operations Wing (SOW), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

“People who knew my dad, I understand can be afraid to approach me because they don’t want to bring up old scars. It’s been almost twenty years for me. Every time someone asks me about him, it helps put more pieces together.” 

Hannah pauses and speaks more deliberately, “Now, I want to know more about my dad. Someone put flowers next to his memorial. I don’t know who. Who put those there? As time goes on, I want to know, what happened? I have these questions that don’t really need to be answered, but if they could be answered, it would be nice. Just like with my dad’s passing. I want to know what he was like. I don’t know. I have this idea that I can graduate college and make him proud somehow.” 

Our meaningful talk has now come to a close. Lunch is over, pictures have been captured, and the SOWF team transports Hannah to Tampa Prep, where she meets Ms. Johnson to get acquainted with particulars regarding the career path for a guidance counselor. Hannah is brimming with energy as she shakes Ms. Johnson’s hand and followers her into the school. It’s clear that this experience is already giving Hannah additional confidence. Hannah waves goodbye to us as she enters her mentoring session. We then return to the Foundation’s office, inspired by Hannah’s fresh energy, to continue the work of assisting students prepare for career and life success. It’s the least we can do.

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