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FreightWaves Classics/Leaders: Katson served the U.S. Navy for nearly 40 years

The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels fly over the U.S. Naval Academy. (Photo: Stacy Godfrey/U.S. Navy)

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National Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed annually from September 15 to October 15. It celebrates “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.”

Hispanic Heritage Week began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period beginning on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988. 

September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day which is October 12, falls within this 30-day period.

FreightWaves Classics also celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month. There have been four recent articles profiling Hispanic Americans. The first article profiled Federico Peña, the first Hispanic American to serve as U.S. Secretary of Transportation; another focused on Henry Frederick Garcia, a U.S. Coast Guard trailblazer; the third profiled Irene Rico, who had a distinguished career with the Federal Highway Administration; and the fourth profiled Rafael Celestino Benítez, a naval hero.

As of December 2021, approximately 67,000 active and reserve sailors of Hispanic heritage serve in the U.S. Navy. Military service by Hispanic Americans dates to the Civil War. This FreightWaves Classics article profiles one of those 67,000 who made a lasting difference.


Mery-Angela Sanbria Katson had a nearly 40-year career in the U.S. Navy. During her tenure she accomplished a great deal on behalf of her nation.  

Early life and career

Katson was born in Bogota, Colombia in 1966. Katson and her family immigrated to the United States in 1970, settling in New Rochelle, New York.

At the age of 16 Katson enlisted in the U.S. Navy. She did so after persuading her widowed mother to sign the mandatory paperwork for all recruits under the age of 18.

After completing boot camp at the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida, Katson’s first duty was on board USS Point Loma, a support ship. During her tour she became a naturalized U.S. citizen. 

Port bow view of the docked auxiliary deep submergence ship USS Point Loma. (Photo: Norman Polmar/nara.getarchive.net)
Port bow view of the docked auxiliary deep submergence ship USS Point Loma. (Photo: Norman Polmar/nara.getarchive.net)

Strongly encouraged by the USS Point Loma’s commanding officer, Katson also attended the University of San Diego on a full scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in just three years. Over time, Katson’s educational achievements included earning two master’s degrees, as well as an executive certificate in public leadership from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Captain Mery-Angela Sanabria Katson, USN. 
(Photo: Mery-Angela S. Katson/Naval History and Heritage Command)
Captain Mery-Angela Sanabria Katson, USN.
(Photo: Mery-Angela S. Katson/Naval History and Heritage Command)

Career as a U.S. Navy officer 

Katson became a commissioned officer in 1991, earning surface warfare officer (SWO) qualifications while serving aboard the USS Acadia, another support vessel.

During the 1990s, Navy regulations were changed; women were allowed to serve on combatant ships. Although Katson wanted such service, she did not receive that opportunity. Instead, she was given the opportunity to train prospective officers at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA).

An aerial view of the U.S. Naval Academy, looking northeast, taken during the mid-1930s. 
(Photograph: Naval History and Heritage Command )
An aerial view of the U.S. Naval Academy, looking northeast, taken during the mid-1930s.
(Photograph: Naval History and Heritage Command )

In addition to her company officer role, she served as an adjunct instructor in Naval Leadership and Ethics as well as Basic Shipboard Tactics and Maneuvering. During her tour of duty at USNA Katson changed designators, switching from SWO to human resource officer.  

Helping others follow and achieve their dreams

Katson used her expertise and energies over the following 30 years to promote naval careers for young people and also helped to facilitate their entry into the military. “She believes in and practices the three ‘ships’: Leadership, Mentorship and Sponsorship,” according to a 2021 profile prepared by Naval History and Heritage Command.  

Seal of the United States Navy Recruiting Command. (Image: U.S. Navy)
Seal of the United States Navy Recruiting Command. (Image: U.S. Navy)

During that period of her career Katson served as the executive officer and then commanding officer of the Navy Recruiting District based in San Antonio, Texas. In addition, she was the Navy’s diversity and inclusion officer. She subsequently served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) as the branch head of the Education Strategy and Policy. Katson’s final position was as the branch head, Enlisted Plans and Policy and deputy director, Military Personnel Plans and Policy. 

Captain Mery-Angela Sanabria Katson, USN. 
(Photo: Mery-Angela S. Katson/Naval History and Heritage Command)
Captain Mery-Angela Sanabria Katson, USN at a marathon.
(Photo: Mery-Angela S. Katson/Naval History and Heritage Command)

On a page of the Naval History and Heritage Command website that is about her, the following is found. “In 2022, a Navy rockstar will be retiring. Her name is Captain ‘Angela’ Katson, a 38-year veteran of the Navy, whose career has been spent  encouraging young men and women to join the Navy, advising junior sailors on job opportunities, and creating enlisted policies for successful career paths.”

Since that was published, Katson did retire earlier this year. Married and the mother of three sons, Katson is an ultra-marathoner. 

Thank you for your service, Captain!

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Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.