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NEWS | March 28, 2024

Mother, mentors provide guiding light for engineer captain

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

When Capt. Catherine Bean raised the idea of joining the military, her mother was an immediate voice of support. At the time, Bean was still in high school. She wanted to join the military, but she also wanted to attend college. With her mother’s guidance, she researched ROTC programs. Then, the two hit the road, logging hundreds of miles together as they visited universities that could offer Bean an ROTC scholarship. Eventually, Bean settled on the Army ROTC program at the University of Mississippi.
“I commissioned in the fall of 2016 and I owe my entire career to the woman that raised me and never told me I was crazy for wanting to serve my country,” Bean said.
Upon commissioning, Bean branched as an engineer. It wasn’t her first choice, but at the time the state was over-strength on second lieutenants in nearly every other branch, so her options were limited. Initially, she was skeptical. She was a social work major and wondered, “What business do I have trying to be an engineer?” As she debated her future, she was reassured that the Army would teach her everything she needed to know to be successful as an engineer, and now says that branching as an engineer was an excellent decision.
“Being a member of the Virginia National Guard’s engineer branch has always felt like home to me,” Bean said. “I’ve never been more challenged yet encouraged and accepted at the same time. The engineers are my family.”
Today, Bean commands the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. She considers company command her greatest military accomplishment to date, and one of the most enjoyable experiences she’s had in her almost eight years of service in the Virginia National Guard.
“Almost all former company commanders say it was the best time in their career,” Bean said, explaining that now that she’s experienced it herself, she understands the hype. “Working with my first sergeant and full-time staff to plan and execute training for my Soldiers has been the most rewarding experience.”
Along the way toward becoming a company commander, Bean said she’s realized how small the organization is. With more 7,000 Soldiers serving alongside her, she’s had numerous opportunities to build strong connections that, she said, have followed her. For example, in 2022, Bean deployed to Kosovo with the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The experience helped solidify her decision to make a military career part of her long-term plan. It also introduced her to peers, friends and leaders.
“It allowed me to learn from brilliant officers and NCOs from all over the state that I continue to run into everywhere I go,” Bean said. One such occasion was while she was waiting to board for a company commander position. While waiting, she ran into Brig. Gen. Christopher Samulski, who had been her senior rater during her deployment and now serves in the 29th Infantry Division. “He kindly sat with me and talked me through the nerves I was feeling and gave me advice that I carried with me into the interview.”
She’s also enjoyed the support of so many other women who proudly serve in the organization alongside her.
“I know that I am a byproduct of the women who have served before me and paved the way for women in the military, and for that, I will always be grateful for their service and sacrifices,” Bean said. As women continue to make strides throughout the military, Bean said it can sometimes feel frustrating to see a lack of representation at the highest levels. “But, women like Lt. Col. Kim Wynn, Capt. Autumn Schuler and Staff Sgt. Janis Simmons are just a few of the role models I look to for what it means to be a woman in the Virginia National Guard.”
Those women, Bean explained, have taught her how to be “courageous and determined,” and helped her to understand that if she doesn’t see herself represented among the decision-makers, she can do something about it.
“I know that if I want to see a change in representation, there’s a chance I need to be that change,” she said. “I hope all women in the Virginia National Guard know how important they are to the force and that they make every organization stronger and more well-rounded.”
In the future, Bean plans to keep serving in the Virginia National Guard and, since taking company command, has a new goal: become a battalion commander.
“If my time leading a company can bring me this much joy, I can only imagine what the feeling of battalion command could bring,” she said.

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