Class of ’80 Experience in the Fleet

compiled by Shannon Martin McClain, ’98

Women from the Class of 1980 recognized at the Navy Football game during the 2016 Athena Conference, celebrating 40 years of women at USNA (all service academies).

A few months ago, I reached out to the women of the Class of 1980 to ask them a series of questions and capture memories from their time at the Naval Academy, in the Fleet and beyond their service.  Fourteen women agreed to have their responses included in a series of stories by the Sisterhood of Mother B. Since the the summer is flying by, and the Class of 2019 is heading into the “real world,” it seemed a good time to explore the Class of ’80’s experiences in the Fleet.

The respondents, all of whom served in the Navy, include aviators, an aviation engineering duty officer, a public affairs officer, officers from the Supply Corps and the Civil Engineering Corps, and General Unrestricted Line Officers.  Eight of the women retired from active or reserve service and two others served ten years or more. As we will see through this and future stories, they embody the mission of the Naval Academy.

Their recollections display a wide variety  of experiences.  Many of their challenges and and triumphs may seem familiar.  I chose to start with a difficult memory they are willing to share.  These memories fall into four categories:  home life, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and professional setbacks.

Home Life

As happens in life, some faced challenges at home – whether the breakup of a marriage or the loss of a child. Peggy Feldmann shared her experience with miscarriage.  At 43 while serving as a Commanding Officer, she miscarried a set of twins. She focused on her job and did not take time to grieve.  Peggy’s take away, “I should have listened to those who had been through the experience and taken time for myself.”  One of our Silent Sisters shared the experience of dropping her first child off at the base day care.  Our sister was a 23 year old Ensign and her daughter just seven weeks old.  She wondered how she would get through the next day, the next week, the next years.  Liz Row wrote of her divorce and caring for her child born in the year prior to the divorce. “Looking back, I wouldn’t want it any other way, but then I wondered if I’d get through it.”

Sexual Harassment

Both Sharon Disher and Susan Cabral experienced sexual harassment from an executive officer.  “My XO . . . tried to turn the tables and get me in trouble. He didn’t succeed and he got sent to a ship with predominately women which I thought was perfect!”  Susan’s experience did not have quite the triumphant ending as Sharon’s.  “At my second command, my XO made unprofessional advances towards me; and I felt trapped in not being able to speak out forcefully against it. I just ignored it.”

Not every experience falls so neatly into the realm of sexual harassment, but it still causes discomfort.  Carol Hoffman had a boss who asked her for rides to and from work.  “My boss never tried to touch me, just the fact that he asked made me uncomfortable, but I did it.  I was not strong enough to say no.  I was careful to maintain my distance from my boss at work and develop friendships with my co-workers.”

Gender Discrimination

Maureen Nunez went back to teach Professional Development at the Naval Academy in 1982 to provide women role models to the midshipmen. “I had hoped that by being an alum, my voice might be heard on issues related to the women mids.  I loved working with the young women, especially the fencing team, and I hoped that being there would give them someone to look to and say ‘she did it, so how hard can it be?’ Looking back, being there so soon after graduating was important, but not without its own perils.  There was still open disdain of women at the Academy, and mids would cross the street if they saw me coming so that they didn’t have to salute me.  I’m sure I looked directionally- challenged, as I would zig-zag across campus crossing the street to make sure the mid would face me and have to salute.  Saluting me didn’t kill any of them, to the best of my knowledge.”

One of our Silent Sisters shared her frustration working for a male Army officer of the same rank who didn’t like anything about her.  “He couldn’t wait to ruin my career. He almost did.  I survived, but it wasn’t easy.”

Jill Votaw’s most difficult memory was when she attrited from NFO training. “The squadron instructors were extremely anti-women in the cockpit.  One instructor, a Lieutenant, made it his mission to ‘down’ (fail) every female NFO student on her check ride (the final flight in a phase of training that had to be passed before going on to the next more difficult phase of training).  He didn’t like me, because I was a LTJG and not afraid of him like all the new Ensigns were.  I’d been in the fleet for two years when I went into NFO training, usually students are right out of USNA/ROTC/Aviation Officer Candidate training and still think LTs are gods.  I was ‘downed’ on my final check ride in the Basic phase of training, and even though I was #1 in the class in ground school (the book learning portion of training) I was kicked out.  I was supposed to have a simulator and a re-fly, but I didn’t get either, just got attrited. VT-10, the NFO training squadron, had a 50% attrition rate at that time, and 90% for the women.  Eventually the squadron CO and Wing Commodore were fired.”

Marjorie Morley, a Navy Pilot, encountered discrimination, but with a different result.  “Dealing with the prejudiced attitudes of many male pilots I served with was always the biggest challenge.  Once most of those pilots realized I worked as hard as they did and had the same goals and objectives as them, they usually accepted me and treated me well.”

Professional Setbacks

Many of the women experienced professional setbacks, whether instigated by gender discrimination or personality conflict. Barbette Lowndes related her disappointment at being passed over for Lieutenant Commander, but shared how she fought back to earn her gold oak leaf and eventually the rank of Captain.  Stef Goebel ran afoul of a boss who did not believe in her or support her. “That felt like a huge failure, and it took me a long time to work through.  Ultimately, [the experience] made me stronger.”

Tina D’Ercole’s difficult memory is followed by such a positive result.  “A Captain in the Navy for whom I worked refused to rank me according to performance. He said to the Commander that he would never rank a woman (1100) above the men who were “real” line officers.  This Commander took the Captain to task and almost got fired. He fought that the ranking must be by performance.  I was ranked #1 that cycle…..AND, he was not fired.”

And then there’s always a Janice Buxbaum in the group.  I am inspired every time I read her response to this question.  She wrote, “I have no difficult memories – I have memories of challenges I have risen to, others I have learned from, friends that I have leaned on and learned from . . . only memories of  love/friendship,  growth and purpose. For this as my truth,  I know I am lucky indeed!”

Even in their difficult memories, this first class of women offers us advice on how to do it better, on how to get through, on how to find the positive. I am thankful that these women chose to share their challenges with us.  It shows a common theme within the Sisterhood of Mother B – a need to make things better for ourselves, our peers and those who follow us. I did promise that there were good memories as well, though.  If we can learn from the difficult memories, let us be inspired by the best. Perhaps, it is best if I let their responses speak for themselves.

What is your best memory from your time in service?

Maureen Nunez – “I enjoyed being in the Maintenance Department of a Training Squadron in Pensacola and feeling as though I was contributing to the mission. I felt as though my USNA training had prepared me well, and I didn’t feel nearly as much of the animosity towards women as I had at the Academy.  There was a Senior Chief in my Division who taught me a great deal about the work and never made me feel as though I didn’t belong.  I will forever feel indebted to him for making me feel accepted and part of the mission.”

CAPT Lowndes

Barbette Lowndes – “My last three tours were so much fun; I wanted to leave on a high note with a positive attitude about my time in service.  [My best memory] is my command tour in Boston immediately after 9/11 and the love and support of my husband and two daughters.”

Peggy Feldmann – “[At] my first duty station, my first boss, a male LCDR, became my mentor. We accomplished some really great work, and traveled the world. I looked for a similar tour for many years, only to realize it was not the job, it was the people you were working with that mattered.  No matter where I was stationed, he (and his wife) would take me in for an advice session on life and work.”

Stef Goebel, Pearl Harbor, HI

Stef Goebel. – “Perhaps my best memory on active duty was getting involved with WOPA (the Women Officers Professional Association). In Hawaii, it was a tri-service organization, and I remember being so moved to see all the career fields represented by the women members compared to how limited the opportunities were around the time I reported to USNA. I was literally moved to tears to see all the wonderful things women were doing in the Armed Forces, especially as operators, in the early 90’s.  I was also moved to see them come together to network, to mentor and to support one another. I think because our time at USNA was so lonely with no upper class women, and almost no women staff and faculty, that I was especially touched by these scenes of all these very diverse women coming together and supporting one another.”

Jill Votaw, who transitioned to be a PAO after attriting from flight school – “So many – My squadron tours at HS-10 and HSL-35 as a LT, serving as escort officer for the filming of TOP GUN(meeting Tom Cruise, Tony Edwards, Meg Ryan …) and STAR TREK III(meeting Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, all the ‘crew’ cast) –my 5 command tours as a Reserve PAO, serving at Navy Office of Information West in Hollywood and working with the folks on the set of JAG, being recalled for 4 months to serve as the Chief of Public Affairs at U.S. Strategic Command, serving as Deputy CHINFO for a month when the Marines invaded Baghdad … just so many.”

Sharon Disher  – “I loved being the second woman to command a Construction Battalion Unit.  It was my last tour of duty in the Navy and the best. I loved my Seabees!”

Tina D’Ercole  –  “A job which included fulfilling the role of Plant Representative while at the same time acting as Deputy Program Manager for a Major Program.  I experienced the most outstanding boss for whom I have ever had the privilege of working.”

Carol Hoffman – I” was assigned to three ships during my 27 year career.  It is so wonderful to help the crew by serving good meals, making sure the vending machines and ships store were well stocked, having/getting the right parts for operations and maintenance, paying the crew and stocking the ATMs.  Most of all my last ship, I was the pre-commissioning Supply Officer on USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7), and one of the first officers assigned to the pre-comm unit.  The supply-engineering-aviation maintenance departments are integral to each other’s success. The Chief Engineer (CHENG), AIMD Officer (Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Officer) and I teamed together from the beginning, setting the example for our departments to work together, not on a quid pro quo basis but because it was our jobs to support each other and the right thing to do.  I believe that influenced the ship’s success for many years following commissioning.”

A Silent Sister – “My tour in Hawaii, working with wonderful people in paradise.”

Janice Buxbaum – “Being given this wisdom and being able to  incorporate it into my core is the greatest gift I was ever given.”

A Silent Sister – “My best memory is standing up the first Navy security force (taking over from the Marines) at the Armed Forces Staff College.  We were a diverse group, many inexperienced (including me) and with a good MA chief and PO1, we managed to get it done.  I learned a lot, including how to work with senior enlisted experts and to lead.  We trained hard and worked hard developing the junior folks.  It was a place where I felt accepted as a professional for the most part.”

CAPT Rowe

Elizabeth Rowe – “My three years on the USS Samuel Gompers (AD-37) as a division officer and then a department head. I tell everyone that all the leadership I know came from those three years.”

Susan Cabral – “Being a part of the ALL-Navy Sports program allowed me to meet other service personnel – and get to play volleyball!”

Marjorie Morley – “I flew EC-130s in VQ-3 at NAS Barbers Point.  We performed an electronic warfare mission over the Pacific.  Occasionally, I had the opportunity to fly into Midway Island and Wake Island, for short deployments.  Flying to these remote islands, filled with Gooney birds and beautiful beaches was an amazing opportunity.”

Can you relate to any of these sentiments? Share your stories with us. We may have different viewpoints and come from different years, but I am often amazed at how much we have in common in our drive and our experiences. Thank you, women of the Class of ’80 for sharing your experiences.

Sisterhood is Support in Our Darkest Hour

By Lee Anne (Hurley) Lorie ‘98

Like so many before me and so many after me, I stood in line on I-Day wondering what the future would hold for me. I was anxious, excited and a little scared. My name is Lee Anne Lorie. I entered the Academy on July 1, 1994 as Lee Anne Hurley, here is my story.

I’d like to think that I had the average midshipmen experience. I swam on the varsity swim team all four years and made amazing friends and had wonderful experiences with the team both on and off the yard. I was a mostly average student – I like to credit myself with helping support the top 50% of my class. I dabbled in the dark side and dated a classmate all 4 years.  We parted ways after graduation, both of us to go on and have our own families years later.

I chose a destroyer out of Japan on a whim – thought it would be fun to live in another country for a couple of years. My time in Japan was amazing.  I traveled all over the Pacific, something I likely wouldn’t have done if I had been stationed in the continental U.S. I met my husband while I was stationed in Japan. He transferred back to Virginia, and I followed him shortly after to check aboard my second command. For my second tour, I was on an amphibious ship, which I chose specifically because of its deployment and port-call rotation.  After Sep 11, 2001, the ship accelerated our deployment which was already scheduled for mid Sep 2001. The awesome deployment/port-call plan went out the window, and I found myself on an amphibious ship loaded with marines, weapons and provisions headed to the unknown. I was 1 of 7 women on a ship of nearly 1000 and for the first time in my life, I really understood what it meant to be a minority. While headed across the pond, I experienced sexual harassment and an invasion of my privacy. Not gonna lie, that experience was scary, but it taught me that it doesn’t matter who you are or what rank you are – everyone deserves respect and should be treated in a manner of decency.  I knew after that experience that I would always stand up for myself and anyone around me. It reenforced that I have a line, and I don’t care who you are, you may not cross it. My deployment ended, we came home after 8 ½ months in the Gulf, and I transferred to my shore tour to finish out my Naval career. My husband and I were married in October of 2002, and we both finished our shore tours in the Norfolk, VA area before leaving for future civilian careers.

In November of 2006, we welcomed our daughter into our family, which was one of the most wonderful days of my life. In September of 2010 we welcomed our son, which was another of the most wonderful days of my life. There are events in your life that you will remember forever. Some because they are so very wonderful and some because they are so very horrible.  

April 6th, 2013 was one of those horrible days. Our son, Andrew, was 2 years old and had been off balance for the past 24 hours, so we took him to the doctor to see what was going on. The doctor couldn’t find anything, so we were sent for an MRI. The MRI revealed that our toddler had an inoperable brain tumor. In fact, he had the worst, most rare and lethal kind of brain cancer known to children. Most die in six to nine months from diagnosis and only one percent live longer. Being in the room when someone explains that your child now has an expiration date and there is nothing that anyone on earth can do to save him is one of the worst horror shows one can sit through.

In the days following that MRI, we watched our son – this vivacious young boy – become completely paralyzed on the left side. He no longer smiled or laughed. He couldn’t walk or sit on his own as he had lost all trunk control. It was horrible. We started the recommended treatment protocol, which at the time was only radiation. It was done on a palliative care basis – not to heal but to merely extend life to try and achieve that 12 month mark. For those interested, this still is the treatment regimen, and has been for the past 50 years. To our great surprise, Andrew made a miraculous recovery. In a matter of days from starting radiation, he was able to walk again, then run and then climb. To say that the doctors and nurses were amazed would be an understatement. To our even greater surprise his tumor had shrunk. It wasn’t gone, but it was much much smaller and for us, that felt great. They had only given us six weeks, but those 6 weeks turned in to 6 months, then a year, then two and then three. Andrew had not only survived, he was thriving. He had a normal childhood and had learned to ride a bike, swim, skateboard, read, add, play baseball, play lacrosse and so much more – he was amazing.

In December 2016, during a routine MRI (we did them every three to four months) we were told that his once stable tumor was again growing. This news was devastating. There were no symptoms, so how could this be? We again were told there was nothing to do but radiation – so that’s what we did. We were also told that he was a true recurrence, and that those kids would die rapidly. We shouldn’t expect him to make it a month. As we went through our second round of radiation with our now six year old, we searched the globe for any treatment plan that could offer hope. Our search brought us to Mexico.

Treatments in Mexico are experimental and are very costly as it’s all out of pocket. There was not only the cost of the treatments themselves, which were in the tens of thousands of dollars but there were travel expenses and lodging expenses. We cried out for help to anyone who would listen to our plea. Among those who came to our rescue were my Navy family.  People I knew decades ago surfaced to stand by us. They donated money – so much money – and made treatment in Mexico for my son possible. We had hope again and for a short while, could breath a little easier. We traveled back and forth to Mexico nearly ten times for treatment from June 2017 through January 2018. By all accounts Andrew should have died in Feb 2017 – at least that’s what the experts told us.

Tragically, our son lost his battle on February 2, 2018. For the rest of my life, I will never forget that day. It changed me, and I know that it will continue to change me. In the days following his death, I saw for the first time with such clarity how those bonds that I had formed so many years earlier would show their true form. Those friends I had made – my sisters – came to my rescue and showed so much love and compassion for my family.  In my days of crying and misery, I received an email from one of my Mother B sisters with a link to a YouTube video. I activated the link and saw these amazing women that I have the great privilege of calling my friends on the video. Each one told me that they were there for me and they were praying and thinking of my family. After each message were pictures of our time together with so many smiles and memories. I cried as I watched this beautiful tribute that my friends – my sisters – had made for me.

The next day my daughter received a package in the mail – it was a craft box. The note in the box was from these same amazing women. It told my daughter that her mommy’s friends were thinking of her, that they knew that she was going through difficult times as well and that every month from that month forward for a year, she would receive another craft box so that she and I would have something to do together. These amazing women – they loved and cared for my daughter, too. At this point more crying ensued. Not even two hours later, my husband brought in the mail. I opened a card and inside it was a condolence card that was hand signed by each of these ladies. These ladies who spanned the United States – all of them in different places and time zones –  had managed to mail a card around so that they could all write in it, sign it, and send it to me. As if that wasn’t enough, they raised money to go towards a foundation that we set up in Andrew’s name. The day for Andrew’s funeral came, and as I stood in that horrible receiving line that no mommy should have to stand in – I looked up and was embraced by another Mother B sister who had flown across the country to be there for me, simply offering a hug. To know that there are people out there who care for you in this way is humbling beyond words.

As I look back at that 18 year old that stood in that line on I-Day, I had no idea that the bonds that I would make over the course of my four years there would play such a role so many years later. To me, being a Sister of Mother B is more than just being part of some “club”.  It’s not just being an Alumni – it is knowing that even in one’s darkest hour, when all you can think of is your own pain and sorrow – you know there are ladies that love you and will be there to help lift you up when you no longer wish to stand. They are there to cheer you on and cry with you, to check on you and make sure you are alright enough to make it through another day. They are heroes to so many, including me. To all of you wonderful sisters – I love you all – thank you for being you.

Lee Anne and her family continue to support families sharing the devastation of DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) through the Andrew’s Army Foundation, which raises money to support scholarships for the siblings of victims of DIPG.  To donate to the foundation, please use PayPal at Andrews-Army@outlook.com. The foundation is in the process of obtaining 501(c)3 Non-profit status and is currently working on a website to help further raise awareness of DIPG and the foundations events.  Please continue to support and advocate for pediatric cancer research.

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

 

Thoughts following the first Class of ’98 Women’s Brunch – September 2018

Transcript of Jeannette Haynie’s Facebook Post

I posted a bunch of pictures from our 20th USNA reunion this past weekend, but I didn’t post the most important one of all – a picture of the women of the class of 1998 (most of us, since we couldn’t all make it to the reunion). This picture means a lot to me because of what it stands for and for how long it took me to realize what an opportunity we had and how much earlier we should have embraced it.

For four years by the bay, we didn’t take pictures together as women – not like this. While we had our groups of friends, we didn’t stick together as women of the class and didn’t overtly build each other up in an environment when that kind of cohesion and strength/support in numbers was sorely needed. Maybe we didn’t all need it, or didn’t all need it all the time, but I know that I needed it, and the absence of that support and strength had negative, lasting effects throughout my career, often in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I didn’t understand it then, and I was certainly part of the problem.

Instead, we survived in our smaller groups, and at times alone, what was in many ways a complex experience for us as women – and we did so with varying degrees of success, pain, and happiness. Sometimes surviving meant pushing each other away – something I was guilty of during those four years. The lessons I internalized during my USNA time held fast for my time in the Corps as well – I continued to push other women away, to think that supporting other women openly and positively would make me seem weak. It took me 23 years to realize how wrong I was, and unlearning that lesson has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences of my adult life.

I realize that my experiences could be different from others in our class. But for me, this picture meant the world. It was the first time that I felt free to be me as a woman in the class of 1998, and while I wish I had figured that out 24 years ago, I’ll take it now.

Transcript of Shannon Martin’s Facebook Post

Susan Balcirak thanks for setting up the ladies brunch. I hope you know what you started. Jeannette Gaudry Haynie you have inspired me to share some thoughts on the Sisterhood of USNA ‘98. It is long, but totally worth it (pretty sure).

I recently spent a long weekend in Annapolis for my 20th reunion from the Naval Academy. I saw so many old friends and shipmates, lamented those who had not been able to make the trip due to work or family obligations (or perhaps because they did not miss us as much as we missed them), and mourned our fallen. The highlight of the weekend for me was a ladies brunch held on Saturday morning before the football game. Did I love it because the mimosas were served with just the right amount of orange juice (a splash) or because the quiche was perfectly cooked (I’m guessing. I didn’t make it to the quiche)? While those things were quite wonderful, it was the first time I had spent time with just the ladies from my class, en masse, without worrying about what the guys would think – and my impression is that I am not alone.

We spent four years together by the shore where Severn meets the Bay and between five and twenty more (with many still on active duty) serving in the armed forces where, if the women were asked to gather together, there was a sense of dread that only a minority can feel in the group when they are singled out. Most of us were close at school with our individual groups of ladies. For me it was my roommates and company-mates, teammates from the Crew team, and the Women’s Glee Club. And while I regularly defended my female classmates against derogatory remarks by our male classmates (as I hope and believe they did for me), I did not openly push for mentorship and solidarity with the women in my class or the classes around me. My transition was slow. As my leadership roles increased, I joined Women in Aviation International (WAI), participated in Joint Sea Service Leadership Symposiums which discussed women’s issues in detail, and I tried to empower my sailors and junior officers to demand respect, inclusion, and equality for all regardless of gender. It has been a long road to accepting this role.

The brunch and the remarks of some fellow classmates reminded me of the story of ordering my class ring. When we were ordering our rings, the women had the choice of ordering a standard women’s ring or a miniature ring. The miniature is normally bought as a gift for a fiancé or spouse, but can be worn by women graduates. I have small hands, and I wanted the miniature, I thought the standard ring was too much for my hand. The representative from Jostens, a woman, said something to me that day that has resonated. She told me that I was part of a very special group of people, women of the United States Naval Academy. There are so few of us in the grand scheme of things, and I should be proud to be from that sisterhood. Further, she told me that the only people who can wear the standard women’s ring are women who attended the Naval Academy. The miniature can be worn by spouses and grads, and the men’s ring was also available to purchase for spouses (though I have never encountered that particular situation). I was struggling with being a female midshipman and a female officer. I just wanted to be a midshipman, an officer – like everyone else. But the Josten’s lady – she was celebrating me as a part of a special group of women. Somehow she understood what that ring and those women would mean to me some day. She convinced me to order the standard ring – and it is big and clunky, but I am glad.

So as I was drinking my champagne – I mean Mimosa – and catching up with my classmates, I was speaking with brand new Navy Captains, seasoned Commanders and Marine Lieutenant Colonels, and women who commanded ships and shore stations. I spoke with Apache pilots (yes, that is nearly the only reason to go Army), ladies who have flown for the President, business owners who are killing it, engineers, medical doctors, dentists, PhDs, lawyers, agents for the FBI and NCIS, professors, aspiring actors, farmers, program managers. I shared stories with mothers, ladies who wish to be mothers, and ladies who are glad they are not mothers. There were women who sing in rock bands or at church and women who play music so beautifully that you cry. They run triathlons and marathons. They run for political office. And finally, we were women who are not afraid to gather together, to be proud of one another, to celebrate our accomplishments in the military service and out of it, perhaps now ready as a group to ensure that today’s female midshipmen don’t have to wait twenty years to celebrate their sisterhood.

I did not wear my ring this weekend. I forgot. I rarely wear rings in general – too many years of climbing on aircraft and seeing safety articles with degloved fingers. However, I am so glad that the Josten’s lady had the foresight to know how proud I would be to be a part of this wonderful sisterhood – the Alumnae of USNA ’98.