Heather Sandler came from a military family, with relatives in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. After graduating from high school in May 1994, Sandler enlisted.
She attended boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, for eight weeks. Her class was one of the first to train both men and women together. Sandler also did three weeks of aviation apprenticeship training, where she learned about airplane platforms, the different types of aviation workers on ships and more.
She served on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which was the first male-female integrated ship on the West Coast. In 1995, Sandler arrived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the USS Abraham Lincoln’s first deployment, which was monitoring the airspace near southern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The ship also was involved in Operation Vigilant Sentinel, the response to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s army crossing the border to Kuwait in December 1995. Sandler worked in weapons assembly in the G-3 division until the end of the six-month deployment.
Sandler then spent three months at an aviation ordinance school in Tennessee. She promoted to petty officer third class before deploying again on the USS Abraham Lincoln for a six-month deployment in June 1998. After port visits to Hong Kong, China and Singapore, the ship went to the Persian Gulf. Sandler built bombs for air raids against Al Qaida targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. After the 1998 deployment, Sandler transferred to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for shore duty rotation.
Sandler was later in charge of the armaments system on the USS Harry Truman, loading weapons onto F-18s. Sandler and the weapons crew on the USS Harry Truman supported ground troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom from the Adriatic by preparing aircraft weapons for missions.
In October 2004, she redeployed on the USS Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf to again provide ground support for Operation Enduring Freedom. She also worked as a quality assurance officer, inspecting tools and aircraft for jobs and missions. In May 2005, the USS Harry Truman returned to Norfolk.
Sandler honorably discharged from the Navy in June.
After moving to Connecticut, Sandler attended Capital Community College in Hartford in hopes of becoming a nurse. Later, she decided to go into social work and attended the University of Connecticut where she received her master’s degree.
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Veterans History Project
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Graphic artist: Michelle Zischke