Let Me Be a Plebe, Sir

By a Silent Sister
With Introduction by Kate McCreery Glynn ’98

Naval Academy plebes are taught that only five responses exist to a question from an upperclassman: Yes Sir. No Sir. Aye aye Sir. I’ll found out Sir. No excuse Sir.   But what is the appropriate response when a question posed falls outside the limits of military decorum, leadership, or decency?  In this era of #metoo, stories abound of women cornered, literally and figuratively, by a boss, a superior, a man with power over her career, or life, or dignity.  The military, with defined hierarchies, is unsettlingly fertile ground for this particular form of toxicity.   

 An anonymous Sister submitted this recollection, pointing out rightly that the Brigade is literally on lock down due to COVID, and boredom plus hormones plus one quarter of your population conditioned to obey-orders-and-not-rock-the-boat-lest-plebe-year-become-truly-unbearable, is a recipe for potential abuse.   Her recommendation for a sixth Annapolis-approved plebe response, ready to deploy when an upperclassman’s attention is on more than your gig-line.  

We cannot emphasize enough how hard it is to stand up for yourself in a situation like this, your brain plebe-year addled and sleep deprived, your lesser status emphasized daily.  Which proves the point:  a readymade response like “I just want to be a plebe, Sir!” might be the very thing needed to give plebes, less self-assured that the author, a way to set boundaries.

**********

“Let me be a plebe, sir.”

I went to a USNA Foundation military college for a year prior to matriculating at USNA.  My battalion commander dated my company commander.  That same battalion commander was in my history class: I tried to deal with his inappropriate comments one at a time but ended up embroiled in a much bigger situation.  I tried to take those lessons with me to USNA. 

Plebe year first semester, an average of 2.5 youngsters outside the company asked if I had a boyfriend or what my room number was, ever month.   I don’t think it was because I was irresistible; I think I presented as easy to intimidate:  a lamb, low hanging fruit.

One particular JerkFace who wouldn’t give it a rest lived on first deck next to the ice  machine I would frequent during study hour (I like ice!).   He must have heard me greeting people and squaring off in front of the machine: his head would pop out from the room (suspiciously lacking nameplates as I recall—why the need for anonymity Sir?) right next to the icemaker and ask me in to listen to music. 

“I worked hard to get here, sir.  Let me be a plebe, sir.”   The first time, this was enough to dissuade him.

But not every time. 

The next time he demanded that I recite the noon menu for the next day at the top of my lungs.  No surprise, another upperclassman popped out of his room, shushed me, and corrected my tormentor for asking rates during study hour.   He denied it, so of course the next question was to me.  What the heck was I up to? 

“Sir, he asked me to come to his room and listen to music.  He doesn’t have a name plate on his room.  I worked hard to get here.  Let me be a plebe, sir.” 

That worked once.  But not every time.  When the exact same scenario played out a few days later, and JerkFace denied ordering me to recite the menu again, my response was more pointed:

“Sir, I just want ice.  I just want to be a plebe.  If this midshipman can’t leave me alone I have only so many options:  I can tell my squad leader, I can get my classmates and come down and rumble him OR my favorite, I come down here alone and you send him home in a body bag to his mommy with a note that says – You failed.  He was not a good person.”  


To his credit, the upperclassman led JerkFace away down the hall, and I was left to get my ice.

Then a few days later JerkFace actually chastised me for getting him in trouble.  I just shook my head:  Your mistakes; your consequences.  Then, on yet another study-hour ice-run JerkFace told me I was banned from his deck (the ice machine was a few floors down from my room).  I responded that he had no authority to do that.  His response was to start whisper-yelling at me, presumably so he wouldn’t get in trouble for harassing me during study hour.  I was deliberately loud when I responded: “Sir, I just want ice.  I don’t want any trouble.”  Sure enough, another door popped open, and when an uperclassman’s head emerged, added loudly that I live on the fourth deck.  To his credit, the upperclassman charged us and lit up JerkFace asking a plebe where she lived. 

I offer my personal experience with this particularly loathsome JerkFace to exemplify the need for change. The five basic response (Yes sir; No Sir; Aye, Aye sir; No excuse sir; I’ll find out sir) are appropriate in almost every professional situation a plebe might find herself in.  But a need exists for a sixth response, one engrained like the original five, and ready to deploy when someone uses their authority to create an inappropriate dynamic and a boundary must be reestablished.  “I just want to be a plebe, Sir!”  

Owning Your Struggle

By Lauren Narducci Symmes ‘00

Dear Sisters,

My “pivotal moment” centers around my daughter’s battle with an Eating Disorder (E.D.) Understanding that this is a very sensitive topic, and that most of us witnessed or experienced the pain and trauma of an E.D. while at USNA,  I promise to write about our experiences with the utmost sensitivity.  This is a story about acceptance, perseverance, and love, and I thank you for taking the time to read it.

            Our oldest daughter’s struggle with food and body image started in 7th Grade.  Over a period of two years, she regressed from disordered eating and a distorted body image to full blown Anorexia and Body Dysmorphia.  A quarter of the way through 9th Grade, we made the difficult decision to admit her to an Eating Disorder Clinic where she was an inpatient for seven weeks and an outpatient for five. She is now 18 months into recovery and, through her own hard work and force of will, is thriving.

            Sending L away for treatment was THE HARDEST thing that we have ever done. She asked us to keep her absence, and the reason behind it, private. L’s teachers, counselor, and principal knew about her absence, as did her local doctor, nutritionist, and therapist.  Other than these individuals, only about 10 family members and close friends knew where she was and why.  The people we saw and talked to had no idea that we had a child with an eating disorder, let alone a child that was in the hospital receiving treatment for one! 

            We worked hard to maintain a pretense of normalcy, both to preserve L’s privacy, but also to create a sense of stability for our two other children.  This was mentally and emotionally exhausting!  I sat through class lectures and chatted with my classmates between classes like everything was okay, when in actuality I was constantly monitoring my phone for calls from the hospital.  I attended PTA and HOA meetings as if all three of my kids were at home with my husband, when in reality the younger two were home with a babysitter while my husband visited our oldest at the hospital.  I felt like I was playing the role of dutiful mom, attentive student, and dedicated volunteer all day long, and it wasn’t until the kids were in bed at night that I could step out of character and be the worried, exhausted parent that I truly was. 

            Despite how difficult it was to maintain that façade; it still wasn’t the hardest part.  The hardest part was not knowing if everything was going to be okay.  When you take your child to a typical hospital, there is a feeling of optimism and reassurance.  You hear accounts of success stories and see pictures of thriving children, there are proven treatment plans with measurable results, and a doctor’s bedside manner isn’t critical as long he/she gives his/her patients the proper treatment.   Those feelings of optimism and reassurance don’t really exist in an Eating Disorder Unit at a Mental Health Facility.  You see mostly sick and distressed kids with their exhausted and anxious parents, there are many different types of treatment with unquantifiable degrees of success , and if your child doesn’t connect with their treatment team, it might very well lead to setbacks in their recovery.  Though deep down in my heart I had hope and faith that things would be okay, there weren’t any external signs to reassure me, and that was suffocating.

            About a month into L’s hospitalization, our little circle of friends and family “in-the-know” started to widen.  It was completely inadvertent and usually involved people recognizing and expressing their concern that something was wrong. The first such instance occurred when a friend invited me over for coffee.  She was worried that I was stressed and overcommitted, and I gracelessly dumped our situation into her lap.  She listened to me, cried with me, and then told me about her struggle with Bulimia as a teen.  Her revelation didn’t change our circumstances, but it let in a little bit of light.  Then came a Girl Scout outing with my youngest where a good friend (and my assistant field hockey coach) pulled me aside and said, “I don’t want to pry, but I can tell that something is wrong.  L didn’t look well the last time that I saw her, is something going on?”  The floodgates were released, but during our teary conversation, I came to find out that her niece had been hospitalized the previous year for an E.D. but had since made a strong recovery.  Again, it didn’t change the fact that my child still couldn’t complete a meal, but it gave me a glimmer of hope.  A week or two later, I was having lunch with a friend who is a dietician with E.D. treatment experience.  She asked what was wrong and yet again, I couldn’t hold back the tears.  As I was preparing to leave, a young woman came from the adjacent table came over and said, “I’m sorry to intrude, but I couldn’t help but listen to your conversation when I heard the words Sheppard Pratt.  I was a patient there when I was a teenager and I just want you to know that you are doing the right thing and that everything is going to be okay.”  We had a brief conversation about her career as an RN and about her baby girl, and then I went to my car and sobbed.  Her presence that day was a gift from above.

            That evening our daughter told us that she was going to start completing her meals, and a week and a half later she came home for the first time.  Though she was far from better and was still in a partial hospitalization program for 12 hours each day, we were starting to feel a bit more hopeful. 

            A big change in our approach to her disorder came during a family therapy session just prior to her discharge. Our therapist asked L how she was going to respond to her peers when they asked about her absence.  L replied that she was going to own her disorder, embrace her recovery, and tell people where she was and why.  I joked that she should just hand them a business card with all of the pertinent information on it and then walk away.  She loved the idea, and that night I went home and created this:

Before she returned to school, we shared this card with the treatment center staff, her local treatment team, and her teachers and counselors at school.  Everyone that received one said that there was power in this card, and they were right, there is power in owning your struggle!

            The day that L returned to school and distributed this card, she had three people reach out and ask her about how to get help for themselves or someone that they cared about.  The day that she allowed me to post this card along with our story on Facebook, I got texts and phone calls ALL day from friends and family expressing their support, and in many cases, sharing their stories of recovery from eating disorders.  By owning our struggle, we were finally getting the support that we had so desperately needed while also hopefully helping to destigmatize mental health issues. 

            Recovery is long, messy, and painful, but in the 18 months since her discharge from the hospital, L continues to make amazing progress.  She is committed to shedding light on mental health issues and lives by the adage: “Tell the story of the mountain you climbed.  Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.”  She has a very real (and sometimes raw) recovery account on Instagram where she has connected with young women from around the world, she has shared her story in several publications, and she recently published a book. 

            I, on the other hand, share our ups and downs to let people know that that there is no such thing as a “Pinterest Perfect” Family, and I talk about therapy to encourage others to seek help for mental health issues with the same urgency that they would for physical ones.  Mostly, I just try to be candid about our family’s experience.  I want others to know that they are not alone, that I am here to listen, and that I can say, with certainty, that things will be okay.

A note from Lauren: I am Class of ’00 married to a member of the Class of ’98. We have been married for 20 years and have three children: 15, 13, and 10.  I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, and am now a part time work-from-home mom and college student.  I am a recovering compulsive volunteer, and when I can find some time for myself, I love to read and be outside in nature.  We love to travel and have been very fortunate enough to go on some amazing adventures as a family!

Dear Sisters of 2020,

This week may mark the end of Service Selection as the Surface Warriors choose their ships, but it is the beginning of so much more for the Class of 2020. The Sisterhood of Mother B has been thinking about all of you as you prepare for graduation. Our letter from last year, “Dear SWO Sisters of 2019,” is bursting with advice for SWOs from the Sisters who have gone before you. This year, we wanted to add advice that applies to all warfare communities. Here are some words of wisdom from the Sisterhood 

Kim Do ‘17

First tour division officer! It is a title that strikes both excitement and fear. No other job in the Navy does that to someone. As they always say, first impressions are everything. When you get to the ship, whether it’s in the yards, on deployment or going through inspection, hit the deck plates running! Don’t be that

Ensign who wants to just get off all the time. You will have time for that later. Work on your qualifications. Develop a professional relationship with your chief. That is key. If your chief doesn’t trust you, work on that. Show him/her that you deserve their respect and trust. Show them through your work ethic, humility and the intellectual curiosity. Get to know your sailors. They have a perception about officers, especially junior ones just joining the fleet. Be approachable but don’t be too friendly and amicable to the point sailors think they’re your friend.

Kate McCreery Glynn ‘98

You’re heading to flight school! Some unsolicited advice from a former flight student/pilot/flight instructor (Editor’s note: some of these things apply to all newly commissioned officers):

  1. Don’t fixate on what you think you want to fly.  Work hard, pass your check-rides, see what happens.  Your grades matter, but the need of the service matters more, so setting your heart on one aircraft may = heartbreak.  No matter what you select, you will end up loving it, and snarling at anyone who disrespects your personal hunk of rust.
  2. Speaking of heartbreak:  If you’re single when you start flight school, stay single.  If you coupled, stay coupled.  You do NOT need drama and angst to complicate your life, and “I was up late crying over my breakup” is not an excuse for a sub-par brief. (Editor’s note: Kate met her husband at the dunker five weeks after starting flight school.)
  3. Your reputation follows you into the fleet.  Crappy, but true.  Aviation is a relatively small and reputation-obsessed community. If you screw over your wingman, show up late to everything, or ring-knock, it WILL bite you later. 
  4. DON’T FIGHT YOUR CALLSIGN.  The harder you fight it, the more it will stick, and I promise, at some point it will be a story to laugh about.  Side note:  any new check-in who claims there callsign is “viper” or “assassin” is full of it, and probably hiding a stinker of a nickname.
  5. Be a decent human.  Treat enlisted folks and contractors with respect.   They are the folks who work long, thankless, way-less-exciting-than-your-job hours to make your flying machine go.
  6. Don’t fall into the trap of dissing other women.   Aviation is pretty testosterone heavy.  Most of your squadron-mates will be dudes, and bravado and dirty jokes and macho swagger are a thing.  The collision warning system on an F/A-18 was called Bitching Betty.  One squadron on my first float was famous for printing nudes on the back of their briefing cards.  It is going to be easy to let it slide (heck, even join in) when guys trash a female instructor/student/maintainer, or comment on their looks.  Don’t.  Find your sisters, support each other, don’t take crap.  Yes, that one gal may be a hot mess, but trust me, there are dudes who are hotter messes that aren’t getting the same scrutiny. 

It sounds trite, but I really would do it all again.  You are embarking on the adventure of a lifetime!

Sarah Rice, ‘02

My ship selection story is probably unique; I earned a spot in an IGEP program and didn’t have to pick with the rest of my class. I did however purposefully service select conventional SWO (instead of nuclear, even as an engineering major) so that I could have more options for lateral transfer later in my career. 


I ended up in a hot-fill billet for my first SWO tour after just asking the detailer to get me from my grad school location to San Diego, and then followed up in another hot fill to stay in San Diego (there’s a pattern here), after which I then executed my Engineering Duty Officer option and did my ED qualification tour, and then a follow-on, both in San Diego (told you!).

The moral of my story: sometimes it’s also ok NOT to decide! I’ve had location as a priority for almost every decision I’ve made, and let the rest fall into place. There’s opportunity for growth in lots of places, so make sure to look for them and take advantage as much as you can. I’ve purposefully made decisions that would allow me to keep career doors open (so, again delaying any decision I couldn’t walk back from… can you tell I’m a Pisces?) because I really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up (maybe still don’t), but I do know I’m happy where I am and what’s within the realm of the possible for what comes next. Your first ship won’t determine your last!

 

Silent Sister

USNA gave you four incredible years of camaraderie and good friends amongst your classmates, the classes in your company, sports, same majors, same sponsors. Now it’s time to build new relationships, friendships, and your “business” network. You’ll be meeting other classmates you never got to know at USNA. Make that camaraderie stronger! And, the folks you meet at your specialty schools will become your mentors/peers in your field.

 *Connect and stay connected. You’ll meet good friends from other commissioning programs, appreciate the diversity in education and leadership. Invite them to join your “service academy” circle.

*Listen to and learn from your Chief.
*Don’t let your qualifications
fall behind.
*Everyone you work with are PEOPLE. Human beings. They have stories behind them. Get to know them.

 Julie Vida ‘94

Fortunately Mids these days have women in the fleet to reach out to with questions so they can make an informed choice. We didn’t have that luxury in ’94 since many career fields opened up mere weeks before service selection. My advice is simple: reach out to women on ships, in squadrons, or whatever community they’re interested in to ask what the environment and jobs are like. LinkedIn is my favorite way to connect, but I would imagine anyone in [from the Sisterhood of Mother B and the USNA Women’s SIG] would be happy to connect through this FB group or others. So many young people don’t tap into the knowledge and experience of those who are there or have been there. They need to take ownership of their future and reach out.

 Katie Gerhard

Things I wish I had known: your Naval Academy graduation order determines your lineal number and how you promote to O-4 and beyond, so it does matter. Start a Thrift Savings Plan immediately, and when you deploy, sign up for the Saving Deposit Program. I always choose my orders based upon location – figure out what’s important to you (location, billet/job, family, etc.) and stick to your guns when talking to the detailer. If you don’t like the job you were dealt at USNA, the Navy is full of lateral transfer jobs- the Navy is your Oyster!

Jennifer Marino ‘98

If you got your first choice of community/specialty/MOS — congratulations! Go knock it out of the park and be the leader you’ve trained to be! If you did not get your top choice (or one of your top choices) in any way, whether that be duty station, type of ship, aviation billet or not, that’s okay! You can and will still have a great career and wonderful opportunities to learn and grow if you choose to embrace them. If that’s you, awesome! Go knock out of the park and be the leader you’ve trained to be! Focus on learning all you can, being a team player and a servant leader and you can’t go wrong.

Alison Hernandez ‘86

In the end, be able to look in the mirror and be able to say you did your best – at whatever job you are assigned. Also, remember at some point, everyone takes off the uniform. Your spouse and children are important.

—–

As for me, I will offer the best advice I was ever given:

  1. Give your best effort, always. Then, remember that someday, the Navy or Marine Corps won’t select you for that job you wanted or the next promotion – except, maybe, for those of you who become the CNO, Commandant of the Marine Corps, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (I know you are out there). When that happens, what will bring you comfort? For some of you, comfort comes from the knowledge that you did everything in your power to get that job – took all the right assignments, sacrificed where you could. For others, it will be the experiences you lived – the interesting duty stations, the challenging orders, the opportunity to be stationed close to family, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At various points along this journey, take the time to evaluate who you are and how your view has changed (or remained the same). If you do this, you might not get everything you want, but you will enjoy the journey.
  2. Bring others along on your road to success – study together; share information and opportunities; lead and mentor others. The most successful squadrons I worked in and the most successful officers I worked with and for competed by doing their best to lift the unit, their sailors, and their peers higher instead of undercutting others to highlight themselves.
  3. Use the knowledge and information from those who have gone before you. Seek mentors. They can help you find a path within your community, transfer to another community, navigate special programs or fellowships, and transition out of the military. Someone knows someone who can help with whatever you want to pursue.

As you head out to your first adventures as a Junior Officer, know the Sisterhood of Mother B is here to support you.  Those who have gone before you are just an email or DM away.

Standing by.
Go Navy,
Shannon McClain ‘98
and the Sisterhood of Mother B

You can reach us via email at sisterhoodofmotherb.editor@gmail.com; on Facebook and Instagram @sisterhoodofmotherB; and on Twitter @sistersofB.

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.