It’s Time

By Beth Ann (Thomas) Vann ‘98

I am often direct.  I don’t want to leave too much room for you to interpret what I mean or how I feel. I want you to know exactly where I stand—whether you agree or not—so we can have an honest and open dialogue. I enjoy that (maybe too much sometimes).  My directness receives a more amicable response now – maybe that’s because I choose my words more carefully at 42 than I did in my 20s or maybe because I’ve perfected the “mom” stare or the Captain (O3) “WTF” face.  Honestly, we don’t have time to care why direct is accepted more now than it was in my 20s.  Now that people are more likely to respond amicably, I need to tell you something that is really, REALLY important to national security and our future as Americans. As a former combat aviator, warfighter, USNA Alumna, and proud veteran; I am ready, responsible, and dedicated to ensuring that the goal of women in uniform is no longer to “fit in” to the system—It’s time we BELONG.

I spent 25 years of my adulthood working to fit in to the “boys’ club” de jour.

After dreaming about space and Annapolis from a young age; I attended the US Naval Academy and graduated in 1998 with an Aero(Astro)space Engineering degree.  I cross-commissioned into the US Army (no, it didn’t hurt) and flew AH-64 A/D attack helicopters. I was one of the first women in my unit in Germany as part of the Big Red One. I continued my Federal service as one of the few women in the Technical Operations division of the Federal Aviation Administration encompassing technicians and engineers. Honestly, the draw to most of those career decisions was in part because someone told me I could NOT do it.  I was too short, too dumb, too slow, too fat, too happy, too rigid, too loose, too single, too married, pregnant, a mother, not a mother……the list is exhausting really. I did it all, but I could have, and more importantly, should have done it better.  I realize only NOW that I missed the opportunity to positively and more intentionally influence the system to which I dedicated more than half my life. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the teams I worked with, who I am and what I did BUT I could have done more, and I am done trying to “fit in.”

I mean, seriously, I just watched a Ted Talk from 2018 where a female Naval Aviator shared that her command finally helped her get the appropriate gear to pee in the cockpit during long missions. (https://youtu.be/TSlVv-7d7h4)  Somehow, no one realized the standard Gatorade bottle wouldn’t work with the female anatomy, and the fancy vacuum system was “too expensive.”  WE (women) have piloted US military aircraft for more than 75 years, and we’re just figuring this out? WHY? – is it because men are uncomfortable discussing female anatomy in professional terms and because women, who are so motivated to “fit in” and prove their worth, are still willing to accommodate the situation?

I am ready to be part of a movement that forces us as warfighters and Americans to rethink the whole system. How about we just agree that we all get equal opportunity to compete and serve, and we rewrite the expectations without considering if they are right for men or women or Christians or Muslims, or Asians or Hispanics.  Let’s recognize that there are many different kinds of privilege and that it has no place in uniform.  Let’s establish expectations as warfighters and be the example for all Americans.  YES, this is a big elephant to eat, I get it. We cannot tackle the whole elephant at one time so we start RIGHT HERE because representation matters.

Let’s set standards for each military occupational specialty based on the success required from someone—ANYONE—who chooses that path.  Take being a helicopter pilot for instance.  I was a pretty good pilot, soldier, officer, and an even better aerial gunner – I took the mass destruction to the enemy pretty seriously.  The physical fitness standards for me and my male peers were different. (PS – I realize the importance of physical fitness standards) My male counterparts, who were also good pilots, soldiers, officers, etc, had to run faster and complete more push ups and sit ups.  Why?  Your first answer may be, “great, let’s make the standards for all soldiers gender neutral and equal to the male standards.”  I challenge you to think deeper and look for the root cause. Why are the standards set as they are from the start?  How fast do you need to run, jump, push up, pull up, sit up, to be a good pilot, soldier, officer, tanker, submariner, marine, infantryman, SEAL, etc?  I don’t know the answer, and I’m guessing the “this is the way we’ve always done it” response will come out of more than one senior NCO or officer in response because that’s the ‘ole standby and often easy answer.  Is it a sufficient and intentional answer?

There is great pride in tradition and history in the military; that pride is often dangerously close to ego and tied to individual self-worth.  When we challenge a piece of that, are we invalidating someone’s contribution, service, ability, motivation? Absolutely NOT!!  We are working to determine how to make our force as efficient and effective as possible with all available information and taking diversity and inclusion seriously. An after-action review is the final act of any tactical military operation (battle). Ideally, this is where units air the near misses, omissions, dirty laundry, and mistakes from an operation so that we learn the lessons instead of repeat them to save lives, ensure success in the future and be a more efficient force in contribution to winning the battle/war/effort.  In my time in uniform, we often failed here because leaders equate acknowledging that we could have made better decisions with some sort of defeat or failure. We have to tackle that nonsense, or we’ll continue this obnoxious circle of blame and inefficient warfighting. We will continue to alienate a portion of our force based on factors completely out of their control and some patriarchal habits that we have not taken the time to recognize, study, and understand. Inefficient warfighting nearly guarantees that war will last longer, cost Americans more time and money, allow the enemy to be better prepared and most tragically and importantly KILL more of our young patriots who choose to serve this great nation.

Look, this is not about male-bashing or shaking our fingers at any one person. This is about being accountable for how it is and recognizing that WE—RIGHT NOW—can make it better for those who choose to serve behind us. We are part of a movement focusing on women and how we can better support other women in succeeding as midshipman, warfighters, professionals in STEM careers and as contributing Americans overall. Women deserve the option to choose whichever path suits her without worrying that she is more likely to be ridiculed for not being a “traditional” woman by both men and women, that she might (very likely) encounter sexual harassment, or she will be judged on a different scale than her male counterparts.  This is our opportunity to be mentors so that others can learn to better navigate the waters and change the course completely.  When we pull each other up, it raises the bar for all of us.

I succeeded only when I forced myself to fit in, often in ways that my male peers did not even have to consider. I own all my actions, successes and failures, and there were many, and this is not a woe-is-me journey. This is an opportunity to be the leader I was trained to be starting at “home” in Annapolis, to stand up in the face of controversy for what is right and to fight all enemies foreign and domestic.  To be the leader who understands that life is hard and full of tough choices. This is not about making Annapolis or military service easier. It’s about leveling expectations and removing unnecessary barriers and distractions so that we can ALL focus on strengthening each other, our culture, and our military. To do that, we must maximize ALL our resources including a diversity that challenges any force we may face now or in the future.  The end goal of our military is to destroy the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible and return home so that we, as a country, can focus on strengthening our core and be the world leader in values, education, and business whether we as individuals decide to contribute to that effort from a cockpit, classroom, boardroom, small business, or from home.  It’s time.

The Women in the Arena

by Tony Licari, ’98

It should seem odd that a man is writing an article for a Sisterhood blog.  I am not a woman.  I have no sisters or daughters.  And I certainly do not claim any special knowledge or expertise of women.  However, I do know a lot about being someone who did not think women were equal to men.  I also remember a lot about my journey from Jerkmanistan to accepting women as equals.  The path was littered with confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance and a lot of bad faith on my part.  There was no road to Damascus moment that I can recall either.  It was a maturing process.  A series of observations and teachable moments from my female peers led me to the only logical conclusion – women were different but every bit my equal.

On 1 July 1994, I was an arrogant 17 year old kid when I reported to the U.S. Naval Academy.  I thought I knew everything.  I KNEW that women were not as good as men and should not be at the U.S. Naval Academy but Congress passed a law or something so that was that.  Plebe Summer gave me the first indication that perhaps my worldview was lacking.  Jen Dowell and Amy Kellstrand were my classmates and squadmates.  They were both very bright, athletic and mature.  More importantly, they were better performers than me.  For someone who thought he was all that and a bag of chips, that was not easy to admit.  Jen had a ridiculous ability to memorize plebe rates and spit them out despite the amount of flak she was catching from a detailer.  If I had the money, I would have paid her to take all my chow calls.  Amy was a killer at uniform races and PT.  Also, her Massachusetts accent was entertaining as hell.  “Come onnnnnn Li-care-ee” sounds downright hilarious when you are hopelessly jamming your head through one of the sleeves of your whitework’s jumper.  Needless to say, I started to question my beliefs and assumptions.

A few years later, I had a firstie in my company named Amy McGrath.  She’s pretty famous now.  You can look her up.  Amy was an athlete and always seemed to balance a million things well.  I think we were squadmates too but I don’t really remember.  One night at Blue & Gold, some of the plebes in my squad were teasing a high-performing female plebe for having “short-term dated” another plebe that weekend.  Everyone seemed to think it was a funny and good-natured at the time including me.  It wasn’t.  The female plebe was deeply embarrassed and felt ashamed by the whole episode.  I didn’t realize it until Amy stopped by my room and told me about it.  She calmly yet directly explained that I could never allow something like that to happen again.  She wasn’t over the top about it but she did express her disappointment.  She also explained to me how women view comments by men and that their public reaction may not be the same as how they are really feeling.  I learned a lot from that incident.  I was ashamed that I didn’t say anything but now I do when I’m confronted with similar circumstances.

During the past 20 years of my career, evidence piled up which obliterated any remaining skepticism I had toward women in the Armed Forces.  I watched Jenn Marino flying President Obama around in Marine One and biking across country for fallen service members; it was awesome yet unsurprising for anyone who knows her.  Being in Carrie Howe’s platoon at TBS and seeing her outperform some great officers — and even take time to help me out — was humbling.  I know that reading Shipmate over the past few years has been a lot of fun.  Tina Dalmau (Demarest) commanded the Carter Hall.  Andria Slough commanded the Porter.  Marcelle Mollet commanded the intelligence detachment in New Orleans.  Kate McCreery Glynn graduated from Harvard.  Gaby Blocher (Bolton) graduated from Columbia.  Melissa Martin ran for Florida State Senate.  Jeannette Gaudry Haynie earned her PhD.  Those are just a few examples and there are many more just in the Class of 1998.  If that is not enough to change your mind, then it is likely that nothing will.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I am some super-woke feminist dude.  I’m not.  I’d probably be just as uncomfortable in a gender studies class as I would be at Beat Navy pep rally.  I never felt diversity classes and training did anything for me, but witnessing my female classmates achieve great heights definitely did.  To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the women in the arena changed my mind.  Are women different than men?  Of course.  Regardless of that fact, they have earned the right to compete at every level for every job.

Cassandra Clare once wrote that “Growing up happens when you start having things you look back on and wish you could change.”  I am thankful that I had enough good sense and humility to mature over the years.  Like many of us, I have not lived a perfect life and at times I have fallen short of the highest traditions of U.S. Naval Service.  I am just glad that I got this right after years of being wrong.  As I get older, I want less things to look back on and change.

Dear SWO Sisters of 2019,

I hear Ship Selection has changed over the past 20 years.  These days, I understand it’s an exciting event in Alumni Hall with a huge crowd, signs, your picture on a screen and a theme song as you walk on stage to choose your ship – and it’s streamed live for family and friends to see worldwide.  But back in 1998, it was not quite as thrilling. I remember lining up by class rank somewhere on 3-0 and waiting to go into Smoke Hall. There was no way of knowing which ships would be left by the time you got there, maybe people passed information down the line like a game of telephone.  The only people I can remember in the room were the other mids near my class rank and some Surface Warfare Officers to congratulate us.

While these things have changed, one thing remains the same:  your first Divo tour can be exciting, difficult, and at times a bit scary.  We want you to know that hundreds of sisters have have gone before you to these billets, so the Sisterhood of Mother B called upon them to share some of their stories and words of wisdom:

From Christina J. Williams, ‘12:

In January 2012, I was #280 of 280 to select my ship. Because I knew I was last, I ranked all of the ships in order of what I wanted. By the time I walked up and across the stage, almost all of the ships on my dream sheet had been chosen. I chose my 23rd choice, and selected a DDG out of Norfolk (the only homeport available). I was distraught and had tears in my eyes but I refused to let anyone see me upset. With everything I could muster, I put on my biggest smile and walked across the stage. I reported to my first ship in August of that year. I wanted anything but engineering, but the CO assigned me to the Engineering Department, Main Propulsion Division. To date, that division was my favorite division to lead. I learned a lot, I grew up, they challenged me and I challenged them. I loved Engineering and ultimately decided to select an engineering billet for my second DIVO tour as well. My words of wisdom: How you start does not dictate how you finish. I reported to my first ship 280 of 280, I left my last ship #1 of 48. Be humble, work hard, and learn your craft. My years as a SWO challenged and tested everything I had in me. However, I learned from being last that I had the drive and determination to finish anything I started.

From Sabrina Zerphy ‘90 (USS MT BAKER, 1991-1993):

I chose the USS MT BAKER AE-34, an ammunition ship out of Charleston SC. This was prior to 1993 , but fleet auxiliaries; AE, AO, AFS had just been opened to women. My first Divo tour (appropriately) was as AUXO, auxiliaries officer in engineering. What was actually most memorable about that tour was my collateral duty as legal officer. In addition to captain’s mast almost every week, I had the not infrequent court martials, Jagmans, NCIS investigations, and interactions at the city jail.  So… for 2019… hope you’re not collateral duty legal officer!!

From Linda Postenreider ‘82:

The list of ships was limited for the 6 for us who went SWO in the class of 1982.  I chose the USS Frank Cable (AS-40) out of Charleston, SC, because she was scheduled to transfer to a European port.  I loved my tour on the ship even though she stayed tied to the pier in Charleston. I prayed for hurricanes so we would get underway. My first job was Auxiliaries Division officer. I took over from a gal who was one of the first women in the Women on Ships program.  I shared the office with the other Engineering Divos, 2 Master Chiefs (B & E divisions) and 2 Warrant Officers (MPA & DCA). From there I went to 2nd Division, in charge of the 3 on-board cranes and ended my tour as Assistant 1st Lt.

My advice will always be to listen to your sailors and give your CPOs/senior enlisted as much respect and responsibility as possible.  They will take care of you if you take care of them.

My, how the Navy has changed!  Best of luck to those lucky SWOs going to sea with the class of 2019!

From Margaret (Morton) Jackson ‘10:

In 2010, our ship selection night still took place in Memorial Hall. I remember the room being packed with cheering friends and ship representatives, an atmosphere of nervous tension, but also celebration. I sat three rows back waiting anxiously for my turn, even though I already had an idea of what ship people ahead of me wanted, thanks to some ambitious classmates who canvassed all of us. When I got to the stage, I grabbed the last of two name plates for the newest destroyer out of Yokosuka, Japan, and I was thrilled. After studying in China for a semester, I knew I wanted to return to Asia and live in one of the most exciting and dynamic areas of the world. I knew the operational pace would be intense but I felt it would give me the necessary underway experience to be the best possible SWO. We all stressed a lot about which ship was the perfect choice, while forgetting the deployment schedules change and Captains turn over. In the end, the experience will be what you make of it, wherever you end up.

The rest of my firstie year was a whirlwind in the lead up to graduation. My first piece of advice is to enjoy that time while it lasts! The next few pieces of advice pertain the time leading up to and during the first few years as a Division Officer. When I showed up to my ship on the first day, I didn’t know what uniform to wear, where or what time I needed to muster, or how properly to fold the sleeves of my Navy Working Uniform (we never wore them at the Academy). By the end of my first tour, I was the number one Ensign. In addition to my division, I held the collateral duties of Public Affairs Officer, Change of Command Coordinator, and Bull Ensign, and I qualified Command Duty Officer. My point is that I came a long way, but it’s best to go in as prepared as possible!

  • Read. Remember that stack of books they handed you Plebe year? You probably never read them during Seamanship and Navigation class, but read them now! They will give you necessary context and foundational knowledge for your duties and responsibilities as a watchstander and Division Officer. Your Rules of the Road book should be worn thin and you should be familiar with them before stepping on board. When you get to the ship, seek out your ship specific publications, and most importantly, the Commanding Officer’s Standing Orders. Your greatest asset will be your knowledge. Be the person who already knows the Conning Officer commands when you show up to your first watch.
  • Listen. Everyone will tell you to listen to your Chief. And they are right–the Senior Enlisted have the most combined experience and technical knowledge in the Fleet. However, in some cases you won’t have a Chief or you will have others in the Division you must rely on. Talk to all of your Sailors. You be the judge of their performance and character and understand who you can trust and learn from. Finally, take the time you have before you leave USNA to seek out Senior Enlisted leaders. Listen to their stories and their advice. They can help prepare you now.
  • Empower. Your division is only as strong as the team. You must work to empower each member of the team to meet your mission. You will come across many leaders that micromanage, many times due to lack of trust of those working under them. Arm your Sailors with knowledge and the tools to build their confidence and help them recognize their potential. If you can achieve this, you will likely find this is the most rewarding part of your job.
  • Prioritize. Even if you are the most efficient time manager, you will never have enough time to get everything done. Remember that you need to be in good health, both physically and mentally to perform your best. Also keep in mind that being a good Division Officer is important, but so are your qualifications. When you choose your next ship and go to ranking boards, qualifications matter. Get qualified as soon as possible and always keep working towards the next step. Some Captains may not let you qualify Tactical Action Officer in your first tour, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach for the top and learn as much as you can to set you up for your next tour.
  • Volunteer. Raise your hand and take on responsibility. Sign up for watch stations during special evolutions, assist in special events, exchanges, or tours, and take on a collateral duty. Not only do you want to stay busy to pass the time, but each new task will require you to learn something new and will enrich your experience. If your ship is in a long maintenance period in your first year, ask to cross-deck and spend time on a ship at sea. While this doesn’t sound fun, it will be one of the only times you have the ability to focus on learning with no other responsibilities. The only way to get better at your job is to do it–and as SWOs, our job is to be at sea.

Be proud to be a SWO. Of all your classmates, you are taking on the most responsibility right out of the gate. The next few years will be transformative and you will have incredible, life-changing experiences. The last thing I will say to my fellow women is know yourself. Know yourself and be honest with yourself. Too many times, I had male colleagues who told me the only reason I succeeded was due to my appearance and the fact I was a female. These words still sting when I think of them today. However, I know how hard I worked everyday to be the best officer for my Sailors. I am proud of what I accomplished. I surely made mistakes, as we all do, but I did my best. If you know you put in the work, then you deserve the recognition. Never let anyone take that away from you.

I hope to meet you in the Fleet. Fair winds and following seas!

From Lori Buresh ‘00:

As a 2000 grad ship selection was almost 20 years ago.. Holy crap!

I decided to pick a ship based on these criteria: I went with the East Coast because I wanted to be closer to family (my parents were living in Delaware), I did NOT want Norfolk per se, I wanted a larger ship since my cruises were on a DDG and a CGN, I wanted a unique mission, and a ship with only 1 billet available so I could have a new start on my adventure post-USNA.  I chose LSD-51 USS OAK HILL out of Little Creek. It was everything I wanted. One of my friends, Kim Palmer, was much higher in class standing than me (I was about 435). She chose her ship and then would go between where I was at and the big board to tell me if my spot was still available. I was thrilled to get my ship.. It subsequently ran aground about a month after I chose it but.. you know. Things!

From our Sisterhood of Mother B Facebook Community:

My first ship – I honestly don’t really remember my thought process but I chose the Iwo Jima out of Norfolk. I didn’t report until two years after graduation because I went to grad school first. So I arrived as a JG with no qualification and was play “catch up” with my classmates. I was assigned to IC division first and then moved to Radio my second year. I stayed in the same department and had two female department heads that were amazing mentors. I loved my time on an Amphib and would choose it again. I’ve had the honor of running into some of my sailors years later after they’ve made chief.
– Danica Middlebrook ‘05

Regarding ship selection – DO YOUR RESEARCH!  Granted, much easier now than it was back then, but though a weird twist of fate I selected a ship in the yards, about to make a home port shift, with a CO I had as a mid – who made it pretty clear he didn’t believe females belonged on his ship. Needless to say, that was a very long tour.
– Anonymous

I had orders to be the DCA, went to school to be the CICO, and ended up as NX DivO. Semper Gumby! – Barbara Ann ‘00

I went to an amphib out of little creek for several reasons, partly because family was on the east coast and there was a boy there when I picked. It worked out pretty well for me as admin and legal, but the ship itself was old and falling apart. I was on LSD 41. We called ourselves buoy 41. We came back from deployment by ourselves because nobody wanted to wait for us we were so broken
– Rebecca Sauls ‘02

I wanted a DDG in San Diego. There were two open slots for females, one on USS MILIUS (DDG 69) and one on USS DECATUR (DDG 73). In those days we had no access to schedules and most ships didn’t have email, so it was luck of the draw in a lot of ways. I randomly picked MILIUS. I reported to the ship as Damage Control Assistant, in charge of Repair Division and combating fires, flooding, structural damage, etc. I had heard it was a difficult job and was really nervous about how it would turn out. I got to the ship and it turned out great! I loved my division, had friends in the Wardroom, had a great Chief and a good Department Head. I was a history major at USNA and got a B in SWO capstone of all things, so my professional self-confidence wasn’t that high. Luckily I was surrounded by great people and ended up doing well. I ended up loving it so much I stayed on MILIUS to do my 2nd tour and am still a SWO. Good luck at ship selection and in the Fleet. Even if you don’t get your first (or second) choice, it’ll all work out in the end and you’ll be where you’re meant to be.
-CDR Mary Katey Hays ’99

I chose the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) out of Yokosuka, Japan. Someone told me it had the most port calls and shortest deployments. I wish I could thank them. I went so many places that now people dream of going. In order that I loved my port calls: all around Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Cebu, all around Japan and all around Korea. Short vacations to Bangkok and Beijing. SWO was never my first choice but I had first choice of ships and I will never regret my decision.   -Karen Heine

I ship selected (in 1992) an AE out of Concord Naval Weapons Station in CA. At the time, women could only select from the ships with an asterisk next to the ship name (auxiliaries and the FST ‘s – training Frigates). I chose it primarily because I knew it would actually deploy as part of a Carrier Battle Group. I started out as Auxiliaries Officer and fleeted up to Navigator mid-tour. I made 2 deployments that first tour and never looked back.

I split-toured to a Spruance class DD as soon as they opened them to women and spent the rest of my career on ships that weren’t available to me as a mid; culminating with 2 command tours at sea. We have come a long way in the SWO community since my ship selection.
-Kristen Stengel ‘92

As for me, I chose an amphib out of San Diego.  I had heard the West Coast Navy was more relaxed than the East Coast. I wanted an amphib because I did my cruises on amphibs and thought, with all the other unknowns, at least I’d know my way around.  I also wanted a larger crew because that meant more watch sections. I ended up as the P-2 Divo on the USS ESSEX (LHD-2), which meant I was in charge of half the steam plant. Although people actually felt sorry for me when I told them I was going to be in the Engineering Department, I loved it.  Engineers are the hardest working people on the ship; first to arrive, last to leave, and the ones you never see but they keep the ship going. There are surely things about that tour I’d rather forget, but the good outweighs the not-so-good. I remember Darron Lee, a ‘95 grad who helped me with my SWO qual.  I remember MM1 Scott and MMC DeLeon who trained me for my EOOW qual, and whenever I got a little too anxious about what was going on with the division, they’d simply say “Ma’am, we got it.” I remember nights on the bridge with stars so bright and although I was tired to the bone, I knew I was so fortunate to be there.

 

So, to our all of our 2019 Sisters, as you head out to your first adventures as a Junior Officer, know we have your back.  Those who have gone before you are just a Facebook message away.

Standing by.
Go Navy,
Michele Phillips ‘98
and the Sisterhood of Mother B

 

YOU? Yes, Me.

by Michele (Cruz) Phillips, ’98

When I tell people I graduated from the Naval Academy and served 6 years in the Navy, more often than not, the response I get is:  YOU?  Really?

Yes, me.  Really.

On July 1, 1994, I took the oath of office and began my journey at the United States Naval Academy.  I was fortunate to have a good understanding of academy life before I got there since my sister graduated in 1993.   I had spent a good chunk of my childhood on the yard, but I had always been on the outside looking in.   I didn’t realize when I took the oath that for the next four years, living on the inside would feel like living in a fishbowl.  Some describe it as a zoo. The Naval Academy is a military base, college, and historical landmark – which also makes it a prime tourist attraction. Members of the general public attend Noon Meal Formation, listening to chow calls and watching the Brigade march to lunch.  

People watched us go about our daily life, all dressed up with too many places to go and not enough time to get there.  There were times people photographed us or asked to have their picture taken with us. And every so often, you would hear someone say something to the effect of “It’s a girl one!”

This was the 90’s so only about 15% of mids were female.  We were a somewhat rare sighting, and people were left to wonder what we were like.  Based on what people have told me over the years, the stereotype for a female in the military includes words like tomboy, loud, masculine, brash, bitchy.  I wasn’t any of these things. Although at one point I tried, thinking it would help me fit in. (It didn’t, and I failed miserably.)   We weren’t supposed to like wearing makeup or heels.  We weren’t supposed to be very…feminine… and we didn’t really have time to be while at the Academy.

But I happen to be the kind of girl that likes frou-frou stuff. I wear makeup. I get my nails done. I passed my PRT’s but was nowhere near a PT Stud.  I’m the quiet type that always gets dinged for Class Participation. So whenever I met someone while I was disguised in civilian clothes, and they found out I went to the Naval Academy I got the look of surprise.  “YOU? You go to the Naval Academy? I would have never guessed.” On more than one occasion, someone told me I didn’t seem tough enough. I was too soft and feminine.  And feminine meant less. Not worthy, less capable.  

There were even a few people who took it upon themselves to decide I got in because I am a minority female. I think this stung the most because I am the only person in my family that was born in America.  My whole family, and even other Filipinos I encountered in the Fleet, were so proud that a Filipino woman was at the Naval Academy. Yet the very thing I should have been proud of, and often the thing that was my driving force to stay, was also a stigma.  As an 18-22 year old, whether or not I felt like I belonged not only depended on the people there, but the perceptions of the people outside of the organization. Looking back, I heard that tone of doubt so often, I started to believe it myself.  Maybe I didn’t belong.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been there.

This doubt carried over into my years as an Officer.  So after my time was up, I left the Navy, put the uniform away and put my Navy days on a shelf, rarely to be revisited or talked about.  I went to work in the private sector and later, stayed home full time with my children for a few years.  I definitely didn’t volunteer that I graduated from USNA.  If it came up, I glossed over it because I knew I’d see the surprise again, and I felt like I didn’t represent the “ideal” female graduate.

But what is the ideal?  It took me some time away from the military to see what the ideal graduate really is – whether or not you stay in the military.  As I encountered fellow graduates in the “outside world,” the common trait I found among us was selflessness and the desire to serve a purpose much greater than our own.   Not only do we get the job done, but we take the extra step to ask “How can I make this process better?  How can I improve the effect this has on others?” We are the ones you can count on, the ones who follow through. We are the ones who do the right thing because we have a higher concept of duty and we do not question whether or not we will get the credit. We know what to do…even when we don’t, meaning we will figure.  It. Out. (Darn Garcia). And when things are FUBAR, we know when to just say “Roger, out” and move on to somehow find a solution, rather than find blame or excuses as to how we got in that mess.  And for any of the previously mentioned cases, I don’t think it matters if you wear makeup, high heels, or happen to be on the soft-spoken side.

Whether in the wardroom or boardroom, cockpit or pulpit, office or bridge, the “ideal” graduates are the ones who consistently step up to the plate and raise the bar.   These successes are not just of Admirals and Senators – they are found in the places we live, work, worship and serve, every day and at every level.

So, if these are the ideals and what defines a USNA graduate, then yes.  I went to the Naval Academy and served 6 years in the Navy.  Surprised? You won’t be after you get to know me.

Dear Sisters

by Kate McCreery Glynn, ’98

How many times have you heard some version of this? “You went to Annapolis?  What was it like?”

Do you have a pat reply?  “Challenging… Lots of engineering… I played rugby for a bit.”   

The truth is, for me, it wasn’t great.  The truth is, I spent a good portion of my time at USNA feeling lost and alone.  

When I showed up on I-day, I didn’t know how to pledge allegiance to the flag. I almost failed chemistry.  I was the plebe who visited grandma over spring break because I didn’t have any other plans; the second class who didn’t get invited to the ring dance booze cruise.  It took until firstie year to find close girlfriends, and in the meantime I slept with people I shouldn’t have out of the sheer ache to be desired. I’m still not sure what the line of scrimmage is.

“You went to Annapolis?  That’s AMAZING!”  

Nope. The truth is, it wasn’t amazing. I wasn’t amazing.   Parts of it were good:  a senior seminar on the Divine Comedy; the Messiah in the chapel; running the seawall.  But let’s talk about flight school, the fleet, my kids, grad school, or work. I spent too much energy reinventing myself to talk about Annapolis.  “Great place to be from and terrible place to be, know what I mean?”  Cue sarcastic detachment a la head tilt and raised brow.

So no surprise, I almost didn’t go to the 20th reunion.  I’d avoided the 5th (What if someone remembers that time . . . ?); the 10th (I’m not flying all the way from Texas to have a crappy weekend.); and the 15th (I’m in touch with everyone I want to be in touch with anyway). It was my darling husband (98-1) who gave me the push: Screw it babe, if it sucks you can just drive home.

Thank goddess he did, dear Sisters, because I found you there. Somewhere during those four years by the bay, I had convinced myself that every other member of Great 98 had found their tribe, and I alone had not; that your bond with each other was so tight that there was no room left for me.  But it turns out I wasn’t alone in feeling alone. You were there with memories of ill-fitting uniforms, rained out parades, and boring classes. Some of you hated football too, and some of you did fail chemistry. We all saw the easy fraternity of our male classmates, and knew it would never be ours, no matter how much of a cool girl we tried to be.  We all had regrets about how we treated each other, wishes that we had reached out more, put down less, lent a hand more easily.  It turns out it took a nudge, a drive, a football game and a cocktail party to realize you were there all along: the didn’t-ever-feel-quite-at-home-here-but-wasn’t-about-to-admit-it tribe of USNA.

So here is to the Severn, the insecure plebers that we were, the Jamaican beef patty, and the women we have become.  You are my sisters, and I am so very glad you are.

Much love,

Kate