Archive for the 'women' Tag

r47ntIn what is clearly one of the more unfortunate moments in leadership we have seen in a while, we have seen in the discussions of women in Marine infantry the triumph of politics and personality over study and science; a raw forcing of a political agenda over mutual respect for the results of an honest study.

Civilian control of our military is one of the crown jewels of our system of government. Hard decisions are made and consensus is rarely there, and that is good. To function best, it relies on mutual respect and a default assumption of the best intentions of all parties.

Well – the last week saw a nasty counter-example pushed out in to the light in an completely unnecessary and unproductive way – and the fault starts at the very top.

It is one thing to argue about the validity of a study – but that is not what is going on. No, what we are seeing is a leader (SECNAV) asking a question and an answer is given based on study and facts. The answer happens not to be in line with the thinking, feeling, emotion, or desired outcome of the leader. The result? Well, let’s look.

From MarineTimes’s Hope Hodge Seck on the 10th;

All-male ground combat teams outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts in nearly every capacity during a recent infantry integration test, Marine Corps officials revealed Thursday.

Data collected during a monthslong experiment showed Marine teams with female members performed at lower overall levels, completed tasks more slowly and fired weapons with less accuracy than their all-male counterparts. In addition, female Marines sustained significantly higher injury rates and demonstrated lower levels of physical performance capacity overall, officials said.

The Marines’ Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force involved about 400 Marine volunteers, roughly 25 percent of whom were women. Over the course of nine months, teams that simulated integrated rifle, weapons, mechanized and artillery units trained to infantry standards and then executed a repetitive series of skills assessments under human testing conditions.

High injury rates among women were also a problem at the Infantry Training Battalion, the Marines’ basic infantry training school for enlisted troops that temporarily opened to women between 2013 and 2015. Researchers found that female ITB participants were injured at more than six times the rate of male participants, and nearly one-third of their injuries occurred during movement-under-load tasks, while just 13 percent of male injuries did.

Read it all to get a full flavor of the study.

After chewing for a day, on the 11th via WaPo’s Dan Lamothe, SECNAV took an angle as unexpected as disturbing;

“Part of the study said that women tend not to be able to carry as heavy of a load for as long,” Mabus told NPR. “But, there are women who went through this study that could. And part of the study said that we’re afraid that because women get injured more frequently, that over time women will break down more. That you will begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates, and I’m not sure that’s right.”

Let’s stop for a minute. Look at that last bit first,

I’m not sure that’s right.

That is a classic sign of someone who is having trouble getting their emotions and feelings in line with reality. This is where Spud Webb comes in.

There is always a Spud Webb. A Spud is someone who breaks well past three standard deviations from the norm that is expected from their biological makeup. In this case, the rare example of a 5’7″ guy who can play well in the NBA where the average height is more that a foot taller than he is. Not only that, in addition to being a great person, Spud can still dunk in his late 40s.

There are also individual women who can do most of the minimum physical requirements in the most demanding positions, but they are, in a fashion, the Spud Webb.

We all love Spud – but we can’t let our excitement about Spud force us to make decisions based on our desire that all 5’7″ men can perform as well as Spud if we just care enough and reserve enough court time. That is just immature, and not all that well grounded.

If the NBA forced all teams to have one non-Spud person 5’7″ or below on every team in one division, but not in the other divisions – would that be a zero-sum impact on one division’s performance relative to the others’? Of course not.

Anyone who denies the biological differences that bone density, muscle mass, and testosterone gives in physical performance of one sex over the other is simply, to use a phrase of the zeitgeist, a science denier.

A bit more from the SECNAV;

“It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never able to do this,” Mabus said of the Marine Corps’ research. “When you start out with that mindset, you almost presuppose the outcome.”

Wow. He is assuming that no female Marines were involved in this? Does he assume that if they were they were part of some great misogynistic conspiracy? Does he believe that from the Commandant of the Marine Corps on down they are trying to force an outcome regardless of what the facts of the study are?

When the SECNAV calls in to question the integrity of your entire service, how do you respond? Well, at the initial post-slap shock, this sounds about right;

An official at Marine Corps headquarters said the service isn’t “going to “get into a debate with SECNAV.” The purpose of the service’s research was to “show scientific method and rigor that would help inform our military leaders and others about some of the possible considerations of gender integration into combat arms” jobs,” the official said. He spoke anonymously in order to candidly address Mabus’s remarks.

“It’s for leaders to weigh and consider,” the official said of the research. “The debate will continue in the near term, but in the end, we will effectively implement any policy the department decides.”

Over the weekend, if you were following the story, you knew this was not going to go in a productive direction. What I didn’t expect, was that this would unravel so quickly.

WaPo’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff on the 14th;

Marines involved in a controversial experiment evaluating a gender-integrated infantry unit say they feel betrayed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus after he criticized the results of a nine-month study that found women are injured more frequently and shoot less accurately in simulated combat conditions.

“Our secretary of the Navy completely rolled the Marine Corps and the entire staff that was involved in putting this [experiment] in place under the bus,” said Sgt. Danielle Beck, a female anti-armor gunner with the task force.

OK SECNAV, what kind of mindset did Sgt. Danielle Beck, USMC bring in to the study?

Sgt. Joe Frommling, one of the Marines who acted as one of Beck’s monitors for the experiment, said he was frustrated with the secretary’s comments.

“What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time,” said Frommling. “They said, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.’”

“All the work that the task force did, the rounds that we shot, didn’t mean anything if he had already made up his mind,” he added.

MabusThe SECNAV’s view of how men and women may be some toxic stew of his experiences in the early 1970s Hairy Navy stirred in the the fetid sauce his gender-studies dept. educated advisers on women’s issues are pouring in to his ears, but it isn’t reflective of what I saw on active duty from the late 1980s to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century – much less 2015.

The honest and direct teamwork of Danielle Beck and Joe Frommling is of this century and this generation – and their integrity and that of their entire uniformed chain of command has been brought in to question by their service’s senior leader – their Secretary of the Navy.

“If you were to look at our training plan and how we progressed from October to February, you’re not going to find any evidence of institutional bias or some way we built this for females to fail,” said one Marine officer who participated in the experiment.

The officer, who asked to remain anonymous because of his active-duty status, explained that for the first five months of the experiment the Marines of the task force trained as a unit in North Carolina to prepare for the testing phase in California. This phase of training is known as “the work-up,” with the second phase in California — where the trials would be held — acting as the deployment.

“We consulted physical trainers from [the school of infantry] to help develop an appropriate hike plan, and we fired roughly a year’s worth of ammo for a regiment in a quarter,” the officer said, referring to the massive amounts of ammunition used to train the relatively small task force at Camp Lejeune. “In the time that we had, there wasn’t a day wasted when it came to training for California . . . From the top down, we were trying to level the playing field.”

Though the entirety of Weapons Company, men and women, trained to the same standard before deploying to California for the evaluation period of the test, another criticism leveled by Mabus was that the women probably should have had a “higher bar to cross” to join the task force.

To Beck, a 30 year-old who was one of the strongest women in the company, Mabus’s remarks were insulting.

“Everyone that was involved did the job and completed the mission to the best of their abilities,” said Beck, adding that Mabus’s remarks about the type of women in the experiment were a “slap in the face.”

“The caliber of the women in Weapons Company are few and far between in the Marine Corps,” she added. “They are probably some of the most professional women that anybody will ever have chance to work with, and the heart and drive and determination that they had is incomparable to most women in the Marine Corps.”

That should, in normal times with normal leaders, cause at least some pause. Well, notsomuch here. On the 15th, as reported by DefenseOne’s Bradley Pensiton;

With more than three months to go before the year-end deadline, the Navy Secretary made it clear on Monday: he will not be requesting any exceptions to the Pentagon edict that all U.S. military jobs be opened to women.

“Nobody’s asking for an exemption in the Navy,” Mabus told an audience at the the City Club of Cleveland. “And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines.”

That may have come as a surprise to the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Joe Dunford; Marine Corps Times reported Thursday that Dunford had met with the secretary on the issue but had yet to issue his recommendations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter asked the services to complete their reviews of obstacles to full gender integration and report back by Oct. 1. If no service seeks or is granted an exemption, the military will open to women all 200,000 positions that remain closed to them on or before the first of the year.

There you go. The study and all the work by the Marines was for nothing. If he didn’t get the results he signaled that he wanted, he was going to do what he wanted anyway.

I don’t think we have any fraud here, but waste and a bit of abuse? An argument might be made in those two areas – but it really doesn’t matter.

This is the world view;

In the study, he said, “There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things: training and leadership.”

Opening all Marine jobs to women, he said, is “not going to make them any less fighting effective. In fact I think they will be a stronger force because a more diverse force is a stronger force.”

Back to the sports analogy arena, this time football.If the AFC decides that 20% of its team has to be female, and the NFC does not – where is the smart money going on the Superbowl? Would the AFC be, “A stronger conference because it is a more diverse conference?”

Thinking, feeling and believing is more important than knowing in the armed services now, I guess. That is where we are, and where we should accept that we are. It is how our system works.

No one really should be surprised. This SECNAV’s tenure has been one where the power of the office has been used to ignore unpleasant hard sciences, but the soft sciences as well as seen in the now forgotten anti-economic “Great Green Fleet” industrial planning vanity project.

We have seen the personal desires and political play in naming ships after a former Sailor who hated his time in the Navy, amphibious ships named after people who promoted blood libel against their former Marines, and has even named a warship after the worst Southern wartime Commander in Chief since Jefferson Davis.

Though in an open society of a free republic, we can disagree with decisions appointed leaders make, we also have to accept them.

You can reach a point as well where there is a point of honor.

And I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while – I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines

I guess that puts the ball in the Marine Corps’ court. Not only does he question the integrity of hundreds of Marines from Sgt to Gen., the SECNAV has no intention of accepting your recommendations either – as is his privilege.

What a sad and unnecessary production of friction and distraction inside the lifelines of a nation at war. Women have made great strides in serving their nation. As as one who served in gender integrated units his entire career – it is the normal.

What is being done here is not normal. It is nothing more than the triumph of personality and the political over science and judgement.

That isn’t good for women, the Marines, or the nation they serve.

As Europe closes borders as waves of migrants come crashing against razor wire, islands are being created from ocean bottom in WESTPAC, and Russia is building bases in the Middle East the Soviets never could … our political and personal capital is being expended on this.

UPDATE: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has brought this issue a bit more in to focus, sending a letter to SECDEF Carter suggesting he call for SECNAV’s resignation.


The Road You Take

September 2015


When you look in the mirror, are you satisfied with who you see? Are you one of those military officers who won’t speak out when you know something isn’t quite right because you don’t want to make waves? While these may seem like philosophical questions, no matter how junior you are or how long you have been in the military, if you don’t question your values and consider what you would be willing to sacrifice to take a stand, chances are you are going to miss the boat. The ultimate choice you will have to make in your tenure as a military officer is which fork of the road you will take- the road to rank and popularity or the road to the moral high ground.

By the time I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, I had been taught by my parents to stand up for what I believed in no matter what the cost. At that time, it would never have occurred to me that I would be relieved from command after 19 years of service for holding my Marines accountable and pointing out the existence of lowered expectations for females and gender bias on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. However, I quickly learned that for all of our talk of core values and ethics in the Marine Corps, many individuals I served with were more concerned with being liked than making difficult but necessary decisions. Some careerist commanders demonstrated that when assessing leadership, the words “negative command climate” carried far more weight than an officer’s actual ability to hold subordinates accountable for conduct and performance.

To that end, the greatest danger facing the military is not ISIS, but the failure of leaders to do the right thing even if it means being viewed as a problem by their superiors. As military officers, we must be willing to make difficult decisions, even when they are not popular. We must be able to look in the mirror and be satisfied with the person we see. We must also be willing to accept the consequences of decisions made on principle.

This does not mean these decisions will be easy to make. We talk a good game in the military about taking risks and living dangerously but the sad truth is that all too often we do nothing to fight bureaucracy and red tape even if we know that doing so would be in the best interests of our subordinates, our service, and the nation. History has shown time and again that when organizations stop evolving, they stagnate and go the way of the dodo bird. It takes individuals questioning the status quo to speak truth to power. Speaking up when something isn’t right can be uncomfortable and may cause others to view you as a problem. But it will allow you to know that you stood for something and that you set the example for your subordinates.

While there is a fine line between stating an opinion and disobeying an order, as military professionals, each of us owes it to our subordinates and the nation to question authority when we know what we are being told or what we see directly conflicts with our moral principles. We must consider whether we want to be likened to Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North or Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Lieutenant Colonel North is known for being a patsy who illegally sold weapons to the Contras, shredded classified documents to hide the paper trail, and lied to Congress during his testimony about the Iran-Contra Affair. Surely he knew each of these actions was morally and ethically wrong, yet he never spoke out or refused his orders.

Colonel Boyd, on the other hand, was known for being a candid strategic thinker and change agent who was willing to upset the apple cart if it meant saving lives and winning battles. In talking to his subordinates about the career fork in the road each of them would face, Boyd stated that they had two choices. “You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go [the other] way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself … If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself …”[i]

As military leaders, we must have the moral courage to make difficult decisions in the interest of our subordinates, our service, and our nation, no matter what the consequence. We must recognize that service is not about being popular and liked, but is about getting results. As Colonel Boyd said, “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision. To be or to do?”[ii] Which road will you take?

[i] Brett and Kay McKay, “John Boyd’s Roll Call: Do You Want to Be Someone or Do Something?”,, (22 January 2014).
[ii] McKay. “John Boyd’s Roll Call”.

“The Few, The Proud, The Marines. Only a small percentage of the US population can become Marines and even fewer than that are women.”

Just seeing that recruiting slogan makes me beam. I am proud to be part of such an elite group. However, being a part of an elite group means that the circle is small. What they don’t tell you on the recruiting poster is that once you are part of the elite group, you will have a heck of a time trying to find a mentor.

The first person I met at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island was a petite woman with painted fingernails, a face full of make-up, and a funny looking hat who greeted us on the bus after arriving for boot camp. Her first words were, “Get off my bus!” She had a freakishly deep voice for a woman. Nonetheless, I was excited and ready to train.

The Marine Corps female Drill Instructor was like an urban legend. No one had eOCS Summer Charlie Cover seen one, but the Marine Corps claimed they existed. Suddenly there she was screaming for us to make our way onto the yellow footprints. Spit flying from her face and veins popping from her neck, she was a rare combination of ferocity, beauty, and grace. I was in awe. My Drill Instructors were my first mentors in the Marine Corps. There are no words to explain how these women emptied over two centuries and some decades worth of Marine blood, sweat, and tears into my soul.

My Drill Instructors not only molded me into a basically trained Marine, they demonstrated through their own example the epitome of a mentor. My Drill Instructors worked as a perfect unit in harmony. This group of women taught us to look out for one another. They were our first role models.

Connection and Camaraderie

The resources that young men and women have access to today should mean that all can succeed. Twenty years ago, when I left home (for the first time) I had to figure it out or find others that were willing to share information with me about how to get things done. As a new Marine, checking into a new duty station, you might be the only woman in a shop. There have been a few times in my career when I have checked into a new unit and I am one of a handful of female Marines, period.

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Sandberg. I didn’t know I would be meeting her—and “training” her—for a leadership venture at Marine Officer Candidates School. I was shocked. I said to myself, “I get to yell at Sheryl Sandberg, the 8th most powerful woman in the world; what an honor!” [1]

After the event, she asked us questions about our experiences in the Marine Corps. It was clear that her message of empowering women to achieve their highest potential was not just a façade. Sheryl is successful and beautiful, but she isn’t only those things; more importantly, she is down-to-earth and approachable. The Lean In circles she has inspired vibrate at this same energy and frequency.

Lean In provides a place where women can find and be a mentor. It helps develop a sense of connection and camaraderie in a service where women are still few and far between. And, since there are now women in many new leadership positions, Lean In circles allow insight into information Marines might not typically have known on their own. And finally, as I’ll discuss next, it kills off the “queen bee” syndrome, one circle at a time, through introducing “modeling behaviors.”

Killing Off The Queen Bee

Recent studies at Columbia Business School ruled that the “queen bee syndrome” is a myth.[2] However, I have seen it and experienced it personally. The military, just like the civilian sector, has its fair share of “queen bees.” When I checked into my first duty station, the majority of the female Marines were just as junior as I was (and struggling to survive), with a few female Sergeants who were ‘queen bees’. They would belittle you in a heartbeat in front of God, Corps, Country, and Chesty Puller and not think twice about it. If you told them something personal, they would run off and gossip to the entire shop. What you thought was a mentoring session was actually solicitation for personal information they could use to humiliate you in front of others. It was horrible.

The good, the bad, and the ugly were rolled up into one scoop and served on the chow line…cold! To top it off, there weren’t any women (like my Drill Instructors) that I could go to for advice. It wasn’t until my next duty station, in Okinawa, Japan, that I finally received some mentorship. It happened to be from a female Staff Non Commissioned Officer (SNCO). Female SNCOs at that time were rare; the last time I had seen one was in boot camp. I was intimidated, but she turned out to be my very first mentor in the operating forces.

When I arrived, she made it a point to talk to me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be “blasted” for something that I didn’t even know I had done. Instead, she asked me questions like: Are you settled into the barracks? Have there been any creepy male Marines that have tried to befriend you? Have you contacted your family to let them know that you arrived in Japan? I was in shock. She was firm and professional, yet she had a nurturing side. She reminded me of my Senior Drill Instructor.

Years later I realized that I might have turned into a ‘queen bee’ had it not been for my experience in Okinawa. Because someone cared enough to take me under her wings (and they weren’t bee-wings!) it changed my life. I still made mistakes, but they could have probably been worse had it not been for her guidance and watchful eye. Her example helped shape me into the leader I am today and gave me the confidence to reach out to other women as a mentor. I see Lean In as an organization that delivers these same results.
Women mentoring other women will not only foster stronger relationships, but a more successful fighting force. Lean In promotes unity, purpose and action. Through their continued efforts, they are showing women how to support each other’s endeavors and that it’s ok to cheer each other on without appearing too “girly.” They are making a difference, one circle at a time, because there’s room for all of us to Lean In and sit at the table.


[1] Forbes. “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” Accessed on August 31, 2015.
[2] The Guardian. “’Queen bee syndrome’ among women at work is a myth, study finds.” Accessed on August 31, 2015.


If you look up the word “equalist” in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, you will not find it. As I write this article, the word is underlined in red squiggles which, interestingly, not only highlights its grammatical inaccuracy, but also its significance on the page. Urban Dictionary defines the word as “one who defends the rights of all, without discriminating against the opposition’s rights.” I look at myself and see an equalist. I also see a First Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, a leader in my local community, a lover of people, and a woman.

I do not need to ask my fellow women military personnel—of any rank—if they too describe themselves as equalists. I know the answer. These women desire one thing in their personal and professional lives: equal opportunity to show their talents and pursue their goals. While these goals and talents are as diverse as those of the male military personnel, they also represent the beautiful individuality of the women who make up less than 15% of the armed forces. We do not want to be given a “hand;” we do not want to meet anything less than the standard; and, we do not want to discriminate against anyone else in the pursuit of our own success and happiness. We just want the same chance.stokes usni2

In our effort to succeed in our military work life, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has become one of our great guidebooks. Without a hint of feminist rant or cliché, Ms. Sandberg nails it. With intuitive understanding of the way women see themselves generally, she identifies what has held us back from becoming the fine leaders we can be, and then provides a nice roadmap for demolishing our own “glass ceilings” and getting there – even in that tritely termed “man’s world.”

The phenomenal success of the Lean In philosophy has been subsequently embodied in the “Lean In Circle,” developed in recognition of the reality that life’s challenges are more eagerly and effectively faced when we have support, rather than “going it alone.”

The Lean In Circle is becoming an increasingly valuable mentoring program for the military because of the well-known challenges that have faced women in this choice of career. These groups offer young women – and men as well – an opportunity to get together and talk. In these forums, the new generation of women military personnel meet with more senior women that have experienced the same doubts and obstacles. Insecurities can be discussed without fear of judgment, and strategies developed for personal success.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Lean In Circles are popping up on military bases around the world, both in garrison and deployed. Even the academies are getting in on a good thing. My alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, now has eight Lean In Circles, and circles are in place at the US Air Force Academy, and the US Military Academy.

One of the most notable side effects of leaning in is the way military women are more likely to actively seek and absorb inspiration in our daily lives, even beyond the circle. For example, I recently attended a conference to recognize the “Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California,” published by Mount Saint Mary’s University. The acclaimed actress, Geena Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, said something I now try to live by as I lean in: “If you can see it, you can be it.” Applying this model to the military, I believe that if you can meet it, you can believe it!

While I know it will not happen overnight, in the short 20-year span that I have experienced the military, first from the perspective of the daughter of a Marine Captain and sister of a Marine mortar man, to my own first-hand experiences as a Marine Officer, I have seen the Marine Corps – and other services as well – make strides toward eliminating gender bias and promoting a more equal playing field. For example, the Marine Corps has indicated its policy commitment to better representation of women among its top leadership – the current number of women Lieutenant Colonels and above is not nearly acceptable, and I am confident that this will one day change.

Thus, it appears to me that, while women in the military are leaning in toward a better future for themselves and their families, the military is making an effort to lean in as well, and needs to continue on this path. If we are going to work toward an environment free of gender bias – where Marines are Marines and not labeled as female or male first – then we junior women must take responsibility to seek mentorship from our leaders. This includes not only our “older and wiser” female leaders, but also our male leaders, whose unique perspective can be most valuable. And, those leaders must feel charged to share their own experiences and advice with the goal of success for all.

We know that formal policy changes and implementation of mentoring programs will not alone solve the issue of gender inequality within the armed forces. But, they are a great start. These efforts, coupled with the passionate support of top commanders, down to most junior enlisted, will eventually result in a military culture that recognizes the unique value women bring to the force. Women will then embrace the opportunities they feel they lack now, and women representation in the armed forces will rise.

Imagine what the US military will look like when we all lean in together.

suni williams USNI blog

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, appears to touch the bright sun during the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sept. 5, 2012.

During the six-hour, 28-minute spacewalk, Williams and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide (visible in the reflections of Williams’ helmet visor), flight engineer, completed the installation of a Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) that was hampered by a possible misalignment and damaged threads where a bolt must be placed. They also installed a camera on the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

Image Credit: NASA


Sunita Williams

Williams received her commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy from the United States Naval Academy in May 1987. After a six-month temporary assignment at the Naval Coastal System Command, she received her designation as a Basic Diving Officer and then reported to Naval Aviation Training Command. She was designated a Naval Aviator in July 1989. She then reported to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 3 for initial H46, Seaknight, training. Upon completion of this training, she was assigned to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 8 in Norfolk, Virginia, and made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf in support of Desert Shield and Operation Provide Comfort. In September 1992, she was the Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami, Florida for Hurricane Andrew Relief Operations onboard USS Sylvania. Williams was selected for United States Naval Test Pilot School and began the course in January 1993. After graduation in December 1993, she was assigned to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project Officer, and V-22 Chase Pilot in the T-2. While there, she was also assigned as the squadron Safety Officer and flew test flights in the SH-60B/F, UH-1, AH-1W, SH-2, VH-3, H-46, CH-53 and the H-57. In December 1995, she went back to the Naval Test Pilot School as an Instructor in the Rotary Wing Department and the school’s Safety Officer where she flew the UH-60, OH-6 and the OH-58. From there, she was assigned to the USS Saipan (LHA-2), Norfolk, Virginia, as the Aircraft Handler and the Assistant Air Boss. Williams was deployed onboard USS Saipan when she was selected for the astronaut program.

She has logged more than 3000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in June 1998, she reported for training in August 1998. Astronaut Candidate Training included orientation briefings and tours, numerous scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training and ground school to prepare for T-38 flight training, as well as learning water and wilderness survival techniques. Following a period of training and evaluation, Williams worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency on the Russian contribution to the space station and with the first Expedition Crew. Following the return of Expedition 1, Williams worked within the Robotics branch on the station’s Robotic Arm and the follow-on Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. As a NEEMO2 crewmember, she lived underwater in the Aquarius habitat for 9 days. After her first flight, she served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She then supported a long duration mission as Flight Engineer for Expedition 32 and International Space Station Commander for Expedition 33. Williams has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions; she ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list, and second all-time for a female. With 50 hours 40 minutes, she also holds the record total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.

The day I was issued my first Coast Guard uniform, I learned that I would need to make due with any size that that I was given. I was 17 years old and I had graduated from high school just two weeks before swearing in as swab at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Weighing 103 pounds at a height of 5 feet and 2 inches, I was easily the smallest person in my platoon. The day that we were issued Operational Dress Uniforms, a dark blue cargo pant and long-sleeve blouse, I was informed that they were out of my size and would have to give me a uniform two sizes up. I paid for fours sets of ODUs that looked like they were made for my older brother. The pants were a foot too long, and the blouse was baggy and frumpy, the sleeves falling well past my wrists. I just assumed that I would never look professional in a military uniform.

I didn’t complain about the oversized garb and learned to love wearing baggy cargo pants, especially underway on a cutter when I would stash snacks and notebooks in the pockets. I believed my small stature was a disadvantage until I started working in an engine room with low-hanging pipes and hard-to-reach valves. I could easily wriggle into tight spaces where most of my male coworkers would have banged their heads or gotten stuck. I worked with a male Damage Control Senior Chief not much taller than myself who was admired by all of the other engineers for his ability to squeeze into the smallest areas to weld, even while the ship was still underway. He was one of the most competent people I ever worked with in the Coast Guard, and he proved that sometimes the smallest person is the best person for the job.

As the Damage Control Assistant aboard a Coast Guard Cutter, I became the maritime law enforcement board team’s engineering liaison, leading groups of mechanics and electricians in inspecting the engineering spaces onboard foreign vessels that were suspected of smuggling cocaine. 100 percent space accountability was essential in these searches, and I was often the only person that could fit inside the empty fuel tanks to inspect them. Sometimes the openings would be so tight that I would climb into the compartment wearing only a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) full-face mask, crouch in the opening, and have my air tank and harness slid into the tank after me. Crawling through the slimy fuel tanks with my Gas Free Meter flashing and blaring alarms that the air was toxic, I would hear clean air streaming out of my mask because the equipment didn’t fit my face. I relied on the positive pressure of the mask to save me from the lethal gasses that were present in the diesel tanks. No matter how tightly the straps were pulled onto my head, the mask would leak. I knew that I had to share this firefighting equipment with 165 other people on the cutter, and that the ship couldn’t afford equipment specifically fitted for me, so I just did my job and didn’t complain about it.

I didn’t think much about the problem of ill-fitting life support equipment until I became a student at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (aka Navy Dive School) in Panama City, Florida. By that point, I had put on quite a bit of muscle and weighed a whopping 120 pounds. My dive school class consisted of enlisted Seabees, Coast Guard Officers, Navy Engineering Officers, Army enlisted personnel, and one civilian with a position in Washington DC supporting the Navy Diving Program. For the first time in the history of Navy Dive School, we had three women entering the SCUBA open water phase. After we had proven our strength and composure underwater by passing the notoriously difficult Pool Week, we were excited to hit the open water for some fun SCUBA dives on shipwrecks.

When I tried on the Buoyancy Compensators (BCs) that our class was issued, I realized that I was expected to wear the same gear that fit my 220-pound dive buddy. What was snug on him fit like a trash bag over my body, and without one hand holding my BC vest onto my body, the whole thing floated up around my face. The best the equipment guys could offer was to tighten up the middle section as much as possible on one of the rigs, and the smaller divers would have to rotate, keeping one hand on the BC to steady it from floating off. If this had been a dive off of a civilian vessel, I would never have worn that gear, citing safety concerns because it obviously didn’t fit.

An even bigger problem arose when I began training with the KM-37 surface supplied diving hard-hats. The neoprene neck sleeves attached to the metal ring that the helmet snapped onto were so stretched out that if I tilted my head downward, giant air bubbles rushed out the back of my neck and water rushed in. It’s difficult to do a job underwater when you can’t tilt your head. One day, a rushed student helping me with the dive gear above the water accidentally pulled the whole rig off of my head, the still-attached neck ring slid right over me. A watching instructor murmured, “That’s not supposed to happen. That’s really dangerous. It could come off underwater.”

I was told that the school just didn’t have the resources to fit minority students with smaller gear. I was dismayed to hear this again and again at my own unit in the Coast Guard, where I continued to wear a full-face mask that leaked on every dive, and BCs that were sized men’s medium. The recreational dive gear that I’d bought for weekend fun dives was sized women’s small. I was strong enough and fit enough to do the job of a Coast Guard Diver, and often my background as a shipboard engineer put me in a unique position of knowledge when working underneath CG cutters. However, my ability to work underwater was often hampered by ill-fitting gear.

I’m not suggesting that we change standards to accommodate women, far from it. Women should only do these jobs if they meet the same standards that have been upheld by men for decades. However, everyone in a position requiring life support gear should be afforded the same opportunity to wear equipment that fits, and sometimes that will mean buying different gear for smaller faces and frames. The Navy Experimental Dive Unit has already tested and approved smaller versions of the full-facemask that is currently used in the Navy and Coast Guard, as well as smaller BCs. It’s not a matter of bending the rules to accommodate women. It’s a matter of ensuring that all members of the unit have properly fitting gear. Sometimes the best person for the job is the smallest person; so let’s make sure they have the right gear.

Coming from the private sector I was struck by the conspicuous lack of female voices participating in SECNAV’s Taskforce Innovation (TFI). Women currently constitute less than 10% of The Hatch innovation crowdsourcing community and innovation organizations like the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) have been overwhelmingly male. The women involved in TFI have provided a disproportionately large contribution in terms of content, commitment, and ability to catalyze larger networks, highlighting the need to cultivate more women innovators. The value of women innovators has been demonstrated in the private sector, where according to a Kauffman Foundation report women technology entrepreneurs achieve a 35 percent better return on investment than male counterparts.

Both in the private sector and the military women have worked to be recognized for their skillsets alone, often by attempting to remove gender from the equation. The Department of the Navy (DON) diversity agenda has largely focused on eliminating differences in perception and opportunity between the genders, such as opening all operation billets and gender-neutral uniforms. The DON may have moved beyond the active intent to exclude or discriminate, but cultural norms still prevent women from fully contributing to activities that take them off the prescribed path.

Scarce numbers increase visibility and scrutiny, and humans are less likely to try things when there is a potential of being threatened. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant pointed out in a Jan 2015 New York Times op-ed, when male executives speak up, they receive 10% higher competence ratings; when female executives do the same, their ratings from their peers are 14% lower. In male dominated fields men and women are held to a different standard when it comes to proving initial competence. Men are assumed competent at the core functions until proven otherwise, whereas women are forced to spend time proving core competence prior to being allowed to push boundaries. One private sector manifestation of this is the fact that women are often excluded from positions on technology boards because they lack STEM backgrounds, however a significant proportion of the male board members of technology companies also lack STEM backgrounds, but are assumed to be competent.

Innovation requires the ability to question norms, synthesize different views, and collaborate to develop unique and powerful solutions. Diversity is the DNA of innovation, but the current DON focus on diversity is simply about bringing women to the table, not providing the environment to ensure they are included in the conversation. Inclusion is about ensuring diverse voices are heard, recognized, and rewarded. Below are three suggestions for more fully incorporating women innovators throughout the DON.

Create space:

An often cited Hewlett-Packard internal report found men apply for jobs when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will not apply until they meet 100% of them. The fact that women make up less than 1% of writers at the Naval Institute Blog is likely an artifact of this fact. Women are less likely to present ideas in progress in a male dominated environment. Encouraging women to innovate requires creating safe space to develop ideas and experiment. Additionally, creating a sense of community where women can talk openly and take risks without being judged prematurely is critical. Women specific initiatives, such as discussion groups and women in writing week, can create the sense of community and the critical mass necessary to push women innovators into taking risk.

Research also shows that when women come to the table the ideas are more likely to be more developed comprehensive solutions. Innovation programs need to ensure they are not primed to give more consideration to ideas that are brought to the table first.

Support the First Followers:

Derek Shivers gave a TED talk on how the first followers are critical to starting a movement and transforming a lone nut into a leader. In a hierarchical organization followers are generally those that have less authority and influence than their superiors. They may try and get along to preserve career or simply because it is the path of least resistance. Leadership in the innovation space is being the lone nut, a place women are often uncomfortable in that role due to the reasons discussed in this blog post. Good followers are the key to driving innovation. They empower people, remove obstacles, and catalyze implementation. They support good leaders and are willing to actively oppose bad leadership. Valuing, actively encouraging, and rewarding first followers are critical to the success of any innovation agenda and give those outside of the cultural majority a place to engage, refine ideas, and if desired step into leadership positions.

Maximize Strengths:

As an organization the DON spends a significant amount of the manpower effort getting the workforce to a minimum acceptable standard. This was critical in an industrial era military when force structures were optimized for homogeneity and interchangeability. However, research suggests that the most successful individuals capitalize on their innate dominant talents and develop those strengths by adding skills and knowledge. Rethinking who and how people come together to collaborate and solve problems is critical to avoiding group-think, a condition which has created past national security failures. Innovation requires intentionally cultivating views that are outside the cultural norms.

In order to be an innovative organization, the DON needs to embrace the fact that individuals have different strengths and weaknesses and that a model based on interchangeability is not tenable in today’s world. There are biological distinctions between the genders, it is a fact, and not something organizational conversation should shy away from. Scientific breakthroughs occur in teams with more women because of increased creativity and fresh approaches and according to research published in Science increasing the collective social sensitivity by adding women increased the collective intelligence of teams. Creating a culture that values individuals and emphasizes organizational constructs that maximize cognitive diversity will allow the DON to maximize the innovative potential of its workforce irrespective of gender.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Department of the Navy.

This speech was sent to us from Kuwait by Lieutenant Colonel Jess Mullen, USMC. While the video quality may be poor, the message is strong (but you have to turn your volume up!).

LtCol Mullen graduated from Vanderbilt University and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1998. A Logistics Officer, she served in a variety of active duty billets until she transitioned to the reserves in 2008. She is currently deployed as the Sustainment Liaison Officer for MCE-K (MARCENT Coordination Element – Kuwait).

“There is an obstacle placed in my path…I want to jump on it, I want to attack it, I want to make it my own, and I want to pound it into powder.”

“Honestly, as a female Marine, any time I’ve heard the words ‘female’ and ‘Marine’ next to the other, it’s either been a door slamming in my face, or some unwanted attention. It has very rarely been a good thing.”

“‘What is your mission? Why are you here? Where are you going?'”

“This is not cute – this is truth. This is the next generation, who may be sitting in these same seats 20 or 30 years from now.”

“We’re not just women of America; we’re women of the world.”

“Use your vote, and use it wisely. People have worked hard for that stuff – you should exercise it!”

“My husband and I are both United States Marines. When people tell us we can’t do something…we just go ahead and do it anyway!”

Diversity has been an increasingly hot topic in the news lately, especially in the military. Because of its often-political undertones, some people cringe when they hear the word. But diversity brings very real benefits to teams that should not be ignored.strobel usni

Diversity at its very core is courage; It is courage to lead when no one looks like you, courage to speak up when people around outrank you, and courage to listen to opinions that may differ from yours. In my experience as a junior officer on a submarine, and as a woman on a submarine, I have seen the positive effects of diversity in its many forms.

To be frank, not everyone was excited about women on submarines. One of the biggest fears people have with diversity is that it will be forced upon a situation where it “does not matter” and will negatively impact performance. What I found was that action and results spoke much louder than the dull murmur of discontent. After just a few months on board the submarine, we had a casualty in the middle of the night. I threw on my uniform and ran to the scene to help. I was amazed and encouraged by how quickly every member of the crew jumped at the call to save the ship; I have observed this to be a crucial tenet of the submarine force.

I call this my “hair story” because once the casualty subsided, everyone jokingly commented on how crazy my hair was. The truth of the matter was that I ran to the scene in the middle of the night; who cares how my hair looks? I can laugh about it now but at the time I felt a dichotomy. When it came to fighting the ship in a casualty, it did not matter if I was an officer or enlisted, male or female. As soon as the smoke cleared, however, it was back to how I looked.

In an environment where you have to rely, sometimes with your life, on the person standing watch next to you, it only makes sense that we should strive to have the best operators. To achieve this goal, we need to include everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, or opinion. Countless times underway, a Fireman has saved the day by speaking up and making sound recommendations without fear of being unheard. This is one of the very positive impacts of diversity: the courage to speak up and the courage to listen to differing opinions. This is what has made our nation great in the past and it will continue to make us elite in the future.

Women’s Equality Day is a commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting universal women’s suffrage on this day 95 years ago.

Today is also the start of “Women in Writing” Week at the Blog. Many of the authors that follow, from now until September 2nd, are either first-time writers, new to the blogging world, or writing on issues they are passionate about.

The idea to have this week came after I culled through all of the blog posts here one day, to get a sense of where we were, where we are, and where we’re going. What Mary Ripley began inauspiciously nearly 7 years ago has blossomed into an online forum that continues the proud traditions of the Naval Institute.

Yet as I read post after post, one thing was missing: the voice of female authors. In more than 500 posts, fewer than 10 were written by active duty or reserve female officers, and none were written by enlisted females. According to CDR Salamander recently, perhaps this is because “they do not feel that their point of view…would be ‘politically acceptable,’ and from their perspective, the cost/benefit ratio just [does] not make it worth it.”

If this is so, let us make this place one where all can come and constructively contribute without retribution. And let us stand up for one another when that retribution attempts to rear its ugly head. As the same CDR wrote at USNI Blog’s humble beginning, “Creative friction is good. A questioning mindset is good. Diversity of thought is good….and a little moxie doesn’t hurt.”

The timing of this “Week” is fortuitous, too, as major “firsts” throughout the military have brought the issue of patriotic women serving their country to the forefront. The first enlisted women submariners are beginning their training, and will report to their boats next year. And of course, the first two women graduated from the Army’s prestigious Ranger School last week.

But as we move past these firsts, we must ask ourselves an important question: “When is ‘celebrating’ women not all that good for women?”

In an article published last week at the Washington Post, Gina Glanz remarks that, “Something tagged exclusively for or about women is all too often a revenue generating strategy alongside a way to deflect criticism about the lack of attention to women and an opportunity for the powers-that-be to say, ‘look what we do for women.’ Unfortunately, often, what they ‘do’ is not much.”

Glanz goes on to recommend that when women are asked to be singled out—or “siloed”—for being women, they should just say no.

And that was a strong sentiment as we stumped for articles for this week. Women’s issues are Navy issues; pay, benefits, uniforms, deployment schedules, meeting—and defining—standards, doing more with less – these are issues that we all grapple with. Knee-jerk categorization of some issues as “female” and some as “male” cheapens the contributions of all Sailors and Marines.

What will follow during this week is writing by both women and men on daily life in the Navy, role models and mentors, uniform policy, retention and leadership, command, innovation, and hope for the future. These are not male issues nor are they female issues. They are Navy issues.

Will this be USNI Blog’s only “Women in Writing” Week? Should it be? Perhaps.

Someone once spoke of a dream, where we consider all human beings equally based on the content of their hearts. Today, we must similarly strive to be a service where all who are willing are considered equally on the content of their performance and their character. This space exists for us to write about it, and to come together as both “writers” and “doers.”

CDR Salamander asks, “Do we want writers, or only writing that is within certain defined boundaries?” The legacy of the Naval Institute has been constructive writing and debate on any topic. Let the existence of this week—anathema to some—be a signal that we welcome all voices and we will, as a community, stand up for all those willing to speak. We welcome all women and men to contribute equally—and often!—to the Naval Institute Blog.

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