Speaking Up With the Superintendent

by Juliana Vida, ’94

I have the perfect job. What I love the most is the trust my boss and corporate leadership have in me to bring my unique voice, my personality, my style to every public engagement on the stage or with media. This is quite different from the rest of my adult life, including 24 years in the Navy and 3 at a major IT research and advisory firm.  I certainly had my share of being undervalued and silenced throughout my career as a graduate of the great class of 1994 and, therefore, one of the first women to join the wardroom of a combatant ship. As if being a CRUDES SWO weren’t hard enough, I transferred to Naval Aviation after my second DIVO tour and took heavier doses of the same.  On one deployment I was the only female pilot on the entire ship, an LHA with about 200 pilots, mostly Marines. On another deployment, on an aircraft carrier, I was the only female department head in any of Carrier Air Wing Eleven’s eight squadrons and the senior female in the airwing since there were no female COs or XOs.

Silenced? Undervalued? Excluded? You bet.

Back to the perfect job.  When I moderate a panel, my go-to icebreaker question for the panelists is “what’s your walk-up-on-stage song?”  I recently decided on my own song, which I came across quite by accident watching Aladdin on a recent flight. In the movie, Jasmine is standing her ground against the evil protagonists, Jafar and his henchmen, asserting her place as the princess and rightful heir to the throne of Agrabah.  This song made me sit up straighter and raise my fist in a “you go, girl” kind of way.

Truncated lyrics to “Speechless” sung by Naomi Scott in “Aladdin”

I won’t be silenced

You can’t keep me quiet

Won’t tremble when you try it

All I know is I won’t go speechless

‘Cause I’ll breathe

When they try to suffocate me

Don’t you underestimate me

‘Cause I know that I won’t go speechless

What does this have to do with my October 18, 2019 meeting with Vice Admiral Buck, USNA ’83 and current Superintendent, to discuss using storytelling to combat sexual harassment?

Everything.

It was confidence in myself and my voice that led me to respond publicly on LinkedIn to a post by the Capital Gazette in late July, 2019, reporting VADM Buck’s top priorities upon taking command: addressing sea level rise and reducing sexual assault.  After years of competing with mostly male counterparts on active duty and as a civil servant in the Pentagon, I’ve learned an important lesson:

Remaining silent solves nothing.  It is an intentional decision not to engage, not to offer diverse viewpoints, to accept the status quo (then grumble and complain about it offline).

As I read the headline and article about how this new leader intended to go after sexual assault (and by extension, I assumed, the culture at the root of the crime), my blood came to a slow simmer.

I admit, I judged him unfairly. I didn’t believe he intended to take on this persistent, toxic beast in a fresh, effective way (e.g. not another mandatory GMT series of lectures)

Without knowing him at all, I thought to myself “yeah right, I’m sure he’ll put this right up there with which recon missions are and aren’t allowed this year, whether plebes can scrunch down their PT socks, and other super important matters of USNA life and Midshipmen development.”  I mean, to be fair, how many leaders have we collectively seen come and go who are well intentioned about addressing hard problems but take little to no action or make progress?

“F it,” I thought.  “I’m sick of all the glad-handing and back-slapping of male leaders who don’t make things better for women or the Navy. I’m saying something.”

So I did.  Fortunately, I had the grace and wherewithal to post a thoughtful comment about how new methods of storytelling in many different forms could in fact be the inexpensive, achievable means for the Supe to tackle the sexual assault challenge.  I read and re-read my post about 20 times, and waited at least 2 hours, before hitting “Post.”  Then I let out a breath and thought, “well….here we go.”

To my great surprise, he responded right there on LinkedIn that he wanted to hear more of my ideas. He offered a phone number to call and coordinate a meeting.

Elated doesn’t begin to describe the emotions. Elated at his response, but honestly, more so at my own confidence in my ideas to post them and risk public ridicule.

Why do we tell ourselves our ideas aren’t worth publicly sharing? Why do we first assume the worst, instead of expecting the best?  I think a career’s worth of being silenced has something to do with it.

Fast forward to October 18, 2019, and my 30 minutes with Superintendent Buck.  It’s worth noting that the administration building where we met, Larson Hall, has only had that name since 2014 when it was renovated and dedicated to ADM Charles Larson, two-time USNA Superintendent who passed in the same year.  In fact, I was almost late for the meeting because I initially went to Bancroft Hall, having no idea where Larson was.  This was important; it showed that renaming of the Academy is actually do-able. Good to know.

To say that VADM Buck was warm and gracious is to do him a disservice.  I felt truly welcome in his space, where he gave me his full attention and interest. We sat in the living room area, not with him behind his desk and me facing him.  He was genuinely attentive and a good listener. I was impressed.  Several alumnae and classmate of his had told me prior to this meeting that he’s “a really good guy who gets it.”  They were right.

I am not an expert in sexual assault, have never been a command SAPR coordinator, or held any role beyond a division or department leader responsible for setting a positive example and holding Sailors and Officers accountable for treating each other with dignity and respect.  And I wasn’t always infallible in those roles.  My intent was to share with him ways he can, and should, make micro adjustments to the everyday USNA culture and environment that will change the way stories are told about the women and men who make the institution what it is – not just the men.

I pointed out that visitors to the Yard see buildings, streets, monuments, walkways, and other geographic points of interest named only – ONLY – for men. Some of us don’t even remember what these men did, but the message is clear that they were important. Who was Stribling, anyway? Or Blake, Maury, Hubbard?  Naming conventions are incredibly important on the Yard. They tell a powerful story of Naval history and heritage, which is foundational to our maritime legacy and dominance.  As of this writing, Hopper Hall is the only building named for a woman on any of the major Service Academy campuses. [In this context, it bears noting that she was not an Academy graduate].

I opined that he should use his position to influence visible structural changes around the Yard to weave in the contributions of women. He did not disagree.

This thread led to my mentioning almost being late to the meeting because I didn’t know about Larson Hall. “So it is possible to change the name of a building on the Yard, then?” I asked.  “I guess so,” he responded, “and though I don’t know all the rules yet about what I can and cannot do, I did find out I have the authority to change names of interior rooms and features inside existing buildings.”  He didn’t promise or commit anything further, but I saw his wheels turning.

We then pivoted to the topic of the small percentage of truly troubled and dangerous young people who make it through the admissions process and pose a real threat to others. He shared that one current, unnamed male Midshipman is undergoing legal processing for repeated physical abuse of others. We agreed there is a very small percentage of “bad people” in any population, including USNA, and shifted to discussing the Academy’s mission: to develop Midshipmen. As the population becomes more diverse with each class, assumptions of candidates’ value sets and upbringing are less and less appropriate. He agreed that “development” into people of character and high morals is the responsibility of the Academy. This development includes the intentional indoctrination of all Midshipmen that women and minorities are as valuable as white men and have contributed significantly to Naval history and maritime dominance. Not to mention, all deserve the respect of their shipmates.

He told me that when he took over this summer, a small group of ’79 grads told him they are “damn proud to be the last class with no women.” He told me that made him sick; that he considers them bad people who we just “have to wait out.”  I respectfully disagreed. Though I understand and appreciate their value as alumni, and their likely financial contributions and influence, it’s not enough to wait them out. They have sons, nephews, friends, and others to whom they spread their acrimony, and it’s not good enough to just let that go. I suggested he take a harder stand next time.

I shared other ideas for creative storytelling:  hang official portraits of notable female alumnae in prominent places – for example, ADM Michelle Howard or CAPT Wendy Lawrence; require midshipmen to yell “Go Navy, Ma’am!” as a general rule as opposed to a special circumstance where an upperclass happens to be a woman; setting a goal of 50% diverse speakers at Forrestal lectures and other high-visibility Yard events; incorporating the stories of modern day alumnae who show leadership in the Fleet and government, such as CAPT Maggie (Vasak) Wilson ‘96, RDML Heidi Berg ‘91, BGen Bobbi Shea ’91, CAPT Andria Slough ’98, the Honorable Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) ’94, and the inimitable LTG Lori Reynolds ‘86. In fact, why not create a professional military course around the contributions of women?  He listened to my ideas with interest; his SAPR officer dutifully took notes as well.

My one regret is not asking for a follow-up or status check 3-6 months down the line. There are a million things I wanted to discuss but either forgot about or we ran out of time. I fully intend to ask for another meeting and ask how he feels he’s progressing on this top priority. In the meantime, I will continue, and I encourage all my sisters from Mother B, to use our voices to make the points and ask the questions that need to be spoken. Don’t be a tacit bystander. Take a stand; take a risk.   I support you all 100% in this endeavor. Thank you for doing the same for me.

Juliana Vida’s perfect job is as Chief Technical Advisor for Splunk, the world’s first Data-to-Everything platform. It’s perfect because “it offers flexibility to travel and work essentially from wherever I want; learning daily from the smartest people in high technology; honing my knowledge and expertise around things like cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), 5G, and more; public speaking in a wide range of venues on numerous topics; and a great compensation package. It’s a Silicon Valley software company, after all.”

 

 

The Battle of Bancroft Hall

by Katherine Carradini, USNA ’84

Veterans Day has caused me distress for quite some time. As a 2 for 0, my standing with the Naval Academy has always been clear: if you raised your hand on I-Day, you’re alumni. Period. But Veteran? Could I count myself with those who went on to graduate, to serve on ships, in planes, and yes, even commanding those LMDs? My angst was always particularly acute during public patriotic ceremonies, where they ask you to stand when the anthem of your service is played.

To stand? Or not stand? Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. If I was with my kids, I stood, because I knew they wanted me to – they would look for me, even up from their high school graduation floor, scanning the stands to find me. They were proud of me…why wasn’t I?

It took a weekend visit with my Academy women classmates to resolve the issue in my mind. I had previously avoided these events, feeling that I didn’t quite belong. It took the sharing of stories, of the past and of the present, for me to understand.

I am a Veteran. I fought the Battle of Bancroft Hall.

Being part of the earliest classes at USNA was challenging in ways that I don’t think any of us ever expected. The harassment and humiliation were real. I got away pretty easily. Harassment came in the form of fending off amorous upperclassmen; a disemboweled mouse left on my desk, a class- and company-mate who tailed me and bilged me to our upperclassmen; and one particularly humiliating moment involving the entire dining hall, one incredibly beautiful, bouncy-blond-haired candidate and one sweaty, crop-haired, unmade-up plebe. One woman the midshipmen stood and applauded in appreciation as she exited the wardroom; the other they applauded as well, but clearly in derision.

I’ll leave you to guess which one I was.

And still, I got off easy. Other classmates were assaulted and abused. You know the stories. But still, we forged ahead. Today, we all agree that none of us thought of ourselves as Trailblazers, but that we were. Just being there, just persisting, helped pave the way for thousands of women who came after us. I’m told that there are women midshipmen there today who have no idea what we went through; so much is it not like that now. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing, or not.

I have decided one thing. I served my country. I helped open the Naval Academy to legions of women who would become Captains and pilots and astronauts. I fought the Battle of Bancroft Hall.

In celebration of my conclusion, I dug out my DD214, took it to my local Tag Agent, and asked for the Veteran Stamp – proudly, and without hesitation.

Happy Veterans Day – to all of us.

 

 

Representation Matters

by Kate McCreery Glynn, ’98

Meg Ryan as Captain Walden, Courage Under Fire, 1996, 20th Century Fox

“It’s just tension asshole. It doesn’t mean shit!”  1996, it was my youngster-year.  Captain Karen Walden’s Blackhawk crashed under enemy fire. She survived, enemy soldiers were closing in, and a crewman was ridiculing her tears.   Remember her?

Probably not. Courage under Fire wasn’t a great movie, and Meg Ryan wasn’t the most convincing as a Blackhawk pilot. But dammit I loved her.  Captain Walden was imperfect. She cried. She was sweaty and dusty and scared. She wasn’t beautifully coifed, ready to be swept off her high-heeled (in a hangar, really?) feet by a macho Tomcat pilot like Charlie Blackwood.    She wasn’t a beyond anything I could ever hope to be Olympian who shaved her head, literally removing the most outward symbol of her femininity, to make it through BUDS like GI Jane.  She wasn’t capable, whip-tongued, but only valuable in so far as she was the foil to men’s shenanigans like Hot Lips Houlihan.

Kelly McGillis as Charlie Blackwood,Top Gun ,1986, Paramount

Of course, Captain Walden was also dead, and the bulk of the movie involves Denzel Washington investigating whether she was worthy of a Congressional Medal of Honor and handsomely brooding over his own demons.  So in the end, even Captain Walden’s story is told in terms of what she means to a male protagonist.  Even this movie, about a female warrior, fails the Bechtel test[1] with a splat.

And yet.  “It’s just tension asshole. It doesn’t mean shit!”  Those words still speak to me.  Who among us haven’t felt the sting of tears, and the gut churning panic stifle them?  It’s just tension assholes!

I used to be embarrassed at how much it meant to me to see myself reflected on the silver screen.  We are supposed to be above all that drivel, and in no way needy of external confirmation of our worth, right?

Naruto, Madman Entertainment, 2007

And then, I had a son.  And then, I had a daughter.  And I saw my son pick his first heroes (Spiderman! Naruto! Sheldon!), and bask in the glow of their awesomeness.  Their exploits were his, their adventures his own.  Spiderman taught him that with great power comes great responsibility; Naruto to fight, literally, your inner demons; Sheldon to embrace his nerdiness.  And I saw my daughter look for her heroes.  Am I Mary Jane?  Does she shoot webs?  All the girls in the Naruto have really big boobies. Penny is funny and pretty, but why isn’t she a scientists like Sheldon and Lenard?

And then, Wonder Woman.  Yes, Gal Gadot’s Diana is beautiful, but damn she is strong, and that movie is unapologetically about HER.   Chris Pine is cast as the proverbial damsel, rescued, awed by Wonder Woman’s might, and basically a prop to advance the plot.  Diana was raised by women, trained by women: no man was responsible for her abilities.    My daughter’s face glowed.  I glowed.  We glowed.

Caley Cuoco as Penny, Big Bang Theory, CBS, 2007-2019

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating:  representation matters.   In that fluffy superhero movie about a demigoddess with a lasso of truth, my daughter found a hero to call her own.    In a world where women are still so often defined by how they relate to men (anyone else cringe at “don’t be mean to her she’s someone’s wife/sister/mother” trope?  She’s human isn’t enough?), proof that a woman’s story is worth telling.

When I was at USNA in the mid-nineties, there were a handful of female company officers, instructors, and stripers[2], so it’s not as if there were zero examples of female leadership in my life.  What I most keenly remember though, is how easily I followed my classmates into the habit of denigrating those women.  Affirmative action—that’s how she got her job.  A woman’s high-pitched voice calling cadences just sounds wrong.   Did you hear about LT ___?  I hear her husband left her and now she sleeps in her office.

Wonder Woman, Warner Brothers Pictures, 2017

Men in positions of authority was the firmly embedded norm, and anything that diverged from that was automatically weird, suspect, lesser than. I wish I could tell you that I was ashamed for not pushing back against jabs like these.  I didn’t.  They felt normal.  Joining in was a way to earn my membership in the brotherhood of disgruntled mids.

Of course now, with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, I recognize how harmful that normal was.  It took a long time for me to excise the gremlin in my head that would whisper, “Do you deserve it or are they just being PC?” when I achieved academic or professional success.  I know now that with every snide remark about a strong female leader’s sexuality (Look at her what a dyke!), or failure to point out that her anger was righteous, not hormonal (what is she PMSing or something?)  I was doing my part to implant that voice in other women’s brains.  Now I feel great shame, and great fear that my daughter will not be spared those same whispers.

What the hell does this have to do with Wonder Woman and Captain Walden?  We are so very used to male heroes.  The damsel, perhaps feisty and intelligent, but ultimately in need of rescue, is standard issue.  Female characters defined only in terms of their relationship to male leads, or conveniently victimized to advance the plot (think the murdered girlfriend a hero must avenge) are common.  Male heroism, leadership, bonding, is idealized, normalized, lifted up in glory, in books, TV, movies, video games.  So, male leadership is normal; it’s what we expect.  When a woman fails to follow her normally assigned role on the other hand–and something as simple as failing to smile enough can land you in this category–it is unfamiliar.  We do not like unfamiliar. It is off-putting, disquieting, tempting to point out the weirdness of the situation (I cannot with a woman raising her voice. So shrill!).   As Caroline Criado Perez points out in Invisible Women , “When Thor was reinvented as a woman by Marvel Comics, fans revolted… although no one uttered a peep when Thor was replaced by a frog.”[3]

Little girls and little boys need heroines.  Unapologetic bad-asses like Diana, and complex imperfect ones like Captain Walden.  Maybe then, when they see women in leadership positions, it won’t seem odd.  Maybe they will know, instinctively, that the timber of a drill instructors voice does not reflect to her competence.  Maybe they will understand that tears are just tension asshole, it doesn’t mean shit.[4]

[1]  The Bechtel Test is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. To pass the Bechtel Test, a work must feature at least two named female characters talking to each other about something other than a man.

[2] A “striper” is a midshipmen in a leadership position, company commander, battalion commander etc.

[3] Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, (New York, NY, Abrams Press, 2019), 14.

[4]  Of course, representation matters to everyone, not just women.  In good news on that front, Mattel recently announced a line of gender non-binary dolls.  Lashana Lynch who is next line to portray James Bond is female AND black.  The comments under articles describing those happy developments, on the other hand, are enough to make you disconnect your Wifi.  We have a long way to go.

 

Be There (Part II)

by Shannon Martin McClain ’98

Being there. I have often put the word out to others or “been there” for my classmates, peers and sailors.  And while so many people have been there for me throughout my life – family, professors, leaders, and friends, it is always difficult to admit to myself – let alone others – that I need help and support. I dislike pity parties and hate not being able to solve problems on my own. However, I have always felt a strong obligation to be open and honest with those who depend on me. As one of the team at Sisterhood of Mother B, I found myself at a crossroads last May. I had received difficult news in March, and I knew I would need to share it with the Sisterhood HQ – I was going to have problems fulfilling my end of the bargain as Chief Editor.

Unsure of how to even talk about my troubles, I sent an email to the other ladies of the Sisterhood of Mother B:

“So, I have been reminded multiple times this weekend that I might love to talk, but I am a terrible communicator.  Doesn’t matter whether it is great news, good news, or really devastating news. . .

“The bad news.  So Carlton and I are pregnant (well, I am) and due in September.  That should be awesome news, but unfortunately, I’m the number 1 in 1 in 26. 1 in 26 pregnancies at the maternal age of 44 have a chromosomal defect (that’s less than 4%).  And I won the lottery of the worst kind that might make it to term (Trisomy 13). The good news is that I’m healthy.  The bad news is that there is a high probability she won’t make it to term; if she does, she has a high probability of dying during birth; and if she lives through that, her life is more likely to be measured in minutes, hours, or days than months or years. We chose to continue, because we really just want to meet her. . .”

“The day I found out the results of the first test, a friend’s father passed away.  She said, we miss him, but we are choosing joy, as he would have wanted.  Carlton and I are choosing joy. Joy that we might get to meet her and joy for whatever time we have with her.  So, if I seem a little distracted or not as responsive as I might be this week or as time goes on, you might know why.”

As you would expect, these brilliant, and wonderful women rallied around me. In separate emails, letters and through group texts, they lifted me up and gave me an outlet to share the normal things you share when you are pregnant.  They bought into Carlton and I’s philosophy of taking the joy we have in the moment. They also picked up the slack on articles and planning for the Sisterhood of Mother B Blog. They were there for me.

Our daughter, Yara Ani, was born 1 August and passed away on 15 August.  She beat the odds and gave us more than hours and days. She gave us two full weeks of love and memories.  My Sisterhood was there for me during that time, as well – in addition to the ladies of Sisterhood, with the birth of our little girl, I shared our news with our wider world – to celebrate our amazing girl, but also because we needed help.

The morning after Yara’s birth, a friend surprised me at the hospital with clothes and a blanket – a blessing since we had nothing. Yara was impatient to join us and arrived seven weeks early. The wider Sisterhood came to our rescue with a carseat to transport Yara home from the hospital, homemade meals (healthier than I can generally make), restaurant gift cards, and grocery deliveries. One fellow officer taught me about Door Dash and another about Uber Eats (I had never used either). Friends, former shipmates, classmates, and complete strangers reached out to lift us up in word and in prayer. All of these things enabled my family to focus our limited time on our Yara.

After Yara passed, our Sisterhood continued their support.  At Yara’s Memorial, I was shocked to walk into the room and see the Sisterhood of Mother B (only Jeannette was absent) sitting in the pews. Michele had mentioned that she would be there, but it helped so much to see the others there as well.  It bolstered my courage as we celebrated Yara’s life and mourned her death.

After the service, we spent hours reminiscing and sharing stories on my front porch – and we used modern technology to FaceTime with Jeannette. Those ladies helped me concentrate on my joy and helped me to laugh – something I very much needed on that day.  And these women and the wider Sisterhood continue to offer opportunities to find joy and purpose.  They inspire me to the work at hand. They always seem to know when I need a little bit more – a note in the mail, an email, or just a text.

I would not have had any of that support if I had not shared my vulnerability.  I struggled to share it with most of my world, but I am so glad that I felt the need to share it with these women with whom I share the Sisterhood of Mother B. They were and are there for me. Just as we hope to be there for you.

If you need someone, I encourage you to reach out to your circle of friends and family.  If you are like me and hesitate to burden those closest to you, I encourage you to find an outlet.  One tool you can use is the  #objectivezero app. This application connects veterans with support in their local area or around the country, and you can filter by location, school and class year among other options. The goal of Objective Zero might be suicide prevention, but you don’t have to hit rock bottom to reach out for help. #USNABeThere.

Be There

by Michele (Cruz) Phillips, ’98

The Sisterhood of Mother B online community was started by members of Great ‘98 and is a result of the camaraderie felt during our 20th Reunion Women’s Brunch. Many of us felt that brunch was the highlight of the weekend, which it was – a happy one. But there is another event from that weekend that has been just as memorable and with lasting effect: our Memorial Service held at the World War II Memorial.

At the top of the hill with our academy in view was a wonderful place to honor, celebrate, and mourn our Fallen Classmates. It was a reminder that all life is unpredictable, but for those in service, the risks are especially high. Our Brigade Commander, Reuben Brigety ‘95, was our guest speaker.  He reminded us to not only celebrate our accomplishments together, but to support one another in life’s toughest times. Many of us have already experienced career failures, illness, divorce, the loss of a spouse or child. It’s during these times we need to show up and be there for one another.

After his speech, Jenn Marino bravely took the stage to read the names of those we have lost.
18 names.
4 operational losses.
7 of the remaining 14 chose to take their own lives.

When we think of those classmates who felt there was no other way to stop the way they were feeling, we have to ask: How? Why? What can we do? And from here, the ‘98 Suicide Action Group was formed. Under the leadership of our Class President Dave Foreman, Great ‘98 partnered with Objective Zero. Objective Zero is the top suicide prevention, behavioral and mental health, wellness, and peer-to- peer support mobile app for military veterans. One feature it did not have was the ability to search by school and class year. Thanks to those who donated close to $15,000 to our class fundraiser, Objective Zero added this feature, and it is now available. We invite you to join us.

The app allows a person to instantly connect with an OZ ambassador with a background of their choosing; filters include branch of service, MOS, school, gender, age, distance and others. To be an ambassador, you need to watch a 30 min training video and take a short quiz.  You then commit to make yourself available for 30 minutes a week should someone find themselves in need of personal support. Even if being an ambassador isn’t for you, we encourage you to get the app and log in.  There are amazing resources for both prevention and crises, and the theme is that we never know when we may need some help.

The Sisterhood of Mother B and the Suicide Action Group were results of the bonds reclaimed at our 20th Reunion. Both remind us how connection is so important to our emotional wellbeing. I am excited to see what else our class will do, but for now we commit to BE THERE.

download OZ App here: https://www.objectivezero.org/app