For San Diego-based nail tech Catrena Hamer, joining the military was a longtime dream. After her then-fiancé began a military career, she realized it was time for her to follow her dream as well. She left her nail career of several years to join the Navy as an information systems technician. Still, her love for nails continued through her service: During her 14 years in the Navy, she kept her skills fresh and made sure to keep her nail license current. “Even during my service, even during my tours, I would do nails for the ladies on the ship,” she explains. After she left the Navy with a medical discharge due to disability, she was apprehensive about returning to the nail industry, but her daughters and friends encouraged her to open a salon again. “Even though I was in practice, because I had been in the military, I wasn't as up-to-date as I wanted to be,” she says. “I was kind of afraid.”

Hamer took business classes before opening a mobile salon, and is currently part of a yearlong business program for veterans. Still, keeping pace with the changes in the nail industry during her absence can be a challenge. “There’s so much new stuff out right now. I'm really trying to learn all the new techniques and everything about gels,” she says. Hamer’s goal is to one day redesign a bus or shuttle into a mobile salon. “I really want to cater to diabetics because before I joined the military, I used to do my pastor’s pedicures and he was diabetic,” says Hamer. “His doctor wanted to meet with me because he was so impressed with the way I would do my pastor's feet.”

She’s careful to protect her own health, too. “My lower back has a lot of pain and sometimes I have problems with the pedicures, so I have to make sure that I am sitting in the correct way,” she says. “I also have a disability with my eye, so I have to make sure that I keep my eye drops in to keep my eyes clear and wear the correct glasses, so I can make sure that I am focusing on what I'm doing with my client.”

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