With the Pentagon on the cusp of seeing its first woman appointed to a Service Secretary or a high (if not the second-highest) DOD leadership post, it might be prudent for Navy leaders to break out their history books, do a little research, and get up to speed with the Navy’s efforts (or lack thereof) in breaking the glass ceiling.

Library of Congress

To get things started on the right note, the Navy can begin by commemorating December 28, the day then-LCDR Darlene M. Iskra (see photo) assumed command of a Bolster Class salvage ship, the USS Opportune (ARS-41), back in 1990.

Remember, that was only eighteen years ago! For more–including audio and video interviews with this ground-breaking skipper–go visit the “Stories from the Veterans History Project,” over at the Library of Congress.

I’m sure the Navy’s record in integrating women into leadership roles isn’t perfect–nobody’s is–but I strongly suspect the other services are worse and will be a bit hard-pressed to keep up with a Navy intent upon demonstrating its history of promoting women. (What other service has a Grace Murray Hopper of their very own?)

But, since there are ships to fund, people to pay and a woman likely to be signing the checks…as they say, all is fair in a resource-constrained environment!

And, in any case, what good is a legacy if you don’t kick back and celebrate it once and a while?

Photo: Library of Congress. –Springboard!

Posted by Defense Springboard in Aviation, Homeland Security, Navy

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  • Cutterman

    On April 1, 1979, LTJG Beverly Kelley (USCG) took command of the CGC Cape Newagen, a 95-foot patrol boat operating out of Maui, Hawaii. The Coast Guard’s second-in-command is VADM Vivien Crea and its Deputy Commandant for Operations is RADM Sally Brice-Ohara, just to name a few of the notable females who have contributed to our service over the decades.

  • Ack! Forget the Coasties at one’s own peril!

    Anybody notice that the CNO announced today that the first black woman to have commanded a Navy ship will be making another first–leading an ESG for the first time? Impressive!

  • and how could we forget that the first female service secretary was Elizabeth Dole – Secretary of Transportation.

  • sid

    Spring…gotta ask…why is it SO important to mention she is “black”?

  • Sid, what’s your point? I’m relaying what Navy Times wrote:

    “The first black woman to command a Navy ship is being assigned as commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 2, according to a Navy announcement.”


  • What I think may be more important is that behind these “firsts” is a generation of officers including both women and men who have been through the entire pipeline from fresh-caught ensign all the way through major command. Women like CAPT Cindy Thebaud at CTF 65 and CAPT Holly Graf on USS Cowpens are out there leading sailors every day, and the press releases on their changes of command don’t make any mention of their gender. I think that’s progress.

  • sid

    My point is that her ability as naval officer which got her that command pin is what should be emphasized, not the color of her skin.

  • Long sigh. Sid. Facts are facts. Firsts are firsts. For better or worse, people, groups and organizations derive pleasure from them. Sometimes it gets carried away, but in this case, noting the facts does nobody any harm.

    So deal with it and be happy the person, though dint of effort got to where he or she has…and save the kvetching for another day.

  • Chap

    Oh, I can’t wait to see what Phibs has up his sleeve for Thursday…

  • Rubber Ducky

    Of perhaps greater significance than first skipper was the basic fight for women at sea.

    In this, credit Kathleen Bruyere (né: Byerly) and her five sisters who in 1975 successfully sued the Navy to permit women to serve aboard ships.

    The next year, Kathy was named one of Time Magazine’s ‘Women of the Year’ for 1975. She went on to Captain and commanded NTC Orlando in her last Navy tour.

  • Kembo

    Adm. Grace Hopper
    I was fortunate to meet Admiral Grace Hopper twice.
    The first was in 1952 (I was 9) when my Dad, an employee of Remington Rand, took us kids to see the first Univac II installed in a business. He helped install it in Franklin Life Insurance in Springfield, Illinois.
    I was amazed at the speed of the line printer, comparing to the typewriters I knew.
    She was there doing some software work and explained some stuff to us.
    After my service in the Navy, I graduated from college and took a position in the Pentagon in 1966.
    I worked in the National Command Center on supercomputers used in communications.
    In 1967 she visited for a reason I do not know. (A very secret place)
    I mentioned having met her before and she remembered it.
    A woman with a truly great intellect.

  • Capt. Paul Tyler

    How soon we forget.There has already been a Woman as a Service Secretary. The Sec of the Air Force from Aug 93 to Oct 97 was Sheila Widnell.

  • sid

    Spring…fact is the US military is where desegregation first really took hold. And Truman’s formalization of it into policy led to the spread throughout society.

    That was then.

    Today, instead of the military taking the lead in moving beyond the post segregation years, I see instead a concerted effort to fortify “Diversity”. In society at large it is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

  • sid

    “I see instead a concerted effort to fortify “Diversity”. ”

    Arguably (not kvetchedly) to the detriment of combat effectiveness I might add…

  • jswt

    So what’s the point of this query? WHY should she be recalled? Becasue she is a woman? Because we need more female commanders of salvage ships? Do we need more salvage ships? Etc., etc.etc.

  • Good, Sid…Gotta admit I knew, from your long-time presence in the blogosphere, that was where you were headed. Why not just say that right up front? Let your freak flag fly, so to speak–and get the issue on the table?

    It’s certainly an issue–your feeling that there’s more interest in some quarters in emphasizing differences rather than competencies–that is worth discussing. The CNO has been holding forth on this matter for some time–the paucity of minority officers in the higher echelon, lack of mentorship and so forth. He has a point. I also read CDR Salamander’s “diversity Thursday” and get freaked out about some of the excesses. He (and it pains me to say this (heh)) has a point, too. Middle roads are hard to find.

    Now, It’s also hard to have a discussion people only feel they can approach it in a roundabout way, so I commend you for finally coming out and saying your piece.

    It’s a complex issue that deserves more thourough treatment than I can provide. But, as a first pass, to the Navy’s credit–and as the amphib sailor says–promotion announcements don’t mention gender or race. But this ESG Admiral is a first, and newspeople picked up on it. Firsts only happen once, so enjoy it. Don’t get too worried if the Navy gets some good PR out of it. Subsequent ESG commands, from now until the martians come and start enlisting and moving up to flag rank won’t get much play beyond an unremarkable line in a Navy press release. And whether your black or white or red in the middle, that’s a good thing.

  • CAPT Tyler:

    Wha..The Air Force is a service? Bwahahahah!


    Good point, though. Rats…can’t let those Zoomies beat us…

  • Chap

    What service are you in, exactly?

  • sid

    I asked a simple question because it is a simple question.

    No subterfuge. No machinations.

    Answers sure are complicated though.

    As you say, it is a topic worthy of discussion.

    As for where the programs are heading in the navy and elsewhere, they are wrongly aligned along skin color, when all the devils in the details actually reside in a difference of culture. Distinct difference there.

    Has anyone asked if “minorities of interest” -whatever that may mean- may just not have a predilection towards wanting to be an ESG commander?

  • sid

    Subsequent ESG commands, from now until the martians come and start enlisting and moving up to flag rank won’t get much play beyond an unremarkable line in a Navy press release.

    I will call you on this one.

    Sure seems the emphasis is so insistent it is inordinate.

  • I have always wondered why we have ignored the significant at sea time of the women commanders of the T-AGOS ships. When on the faculty of NPS in the mid-to-late ’80s I taught some women who had already finished an at sea tour as CO on these vessels. It was miserable duty in many instances due to the deep ocean employment for such a small vessel, and their required tactics to properly place and maintain their sensors. They steamed all the time in sea states that were frequently seriously high. Maybe that’s why the Navy gladly handed them these assignments. Plus they had a mixed uniformed and civilian crew.

  • Brazil Luiz ( retired of the Brazilian Navy)

    My congratulations for the USNI blog! It’s very important for us.

    Best regards!

  • Brazil Luiz, thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Rubber Ducky

    Brasil Luiz: tudo bem!

  • How soon we forget.There has already been a Woman as a Service Secretary. The Sec of the Air Force from Aug 93 to Oct 97 was Sheila Widnell

    And that worked out real well didn’t it? I seem to recall the USAF having its fair share of problems during that era-includng fixing its bus driver uniforms.

    As a died in the wool supporter of all male units-I’ll skip celebrating this, thank you much.

    Save the Males!

  • Byron

    Was wondering when the resident mysoginist was going to show up 😉

  • I prefer the term, “Upholder of fine traditions” thank you very much.

  • Byron

    Glad to see you here, Skippy. Keep your finger sharp, there’s always an eye or two to poke around here 😉

  • Jake the Snake

    In re: CAPT Holly Graf
    How’s that working out for ya?

    Navy: Cruiser CO relieved for ‘cruelty’

    By Philip Ewing – Staff writer
    Posted : Wednesday Jan 13, 2010 22:21:00 EST

    The commanding officer of the Yokosuka, Japan-based cruiser Cowpens was relieved of duty Wednesday after being punished for “cruelty and maltreatment” during her time in charge, the Navy announced. In an unusual move, she is being permitted to continue on to an assignment in the Pentagon.

    Capt. Holly Graf was brought before an admiral’s mast with Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 5, after an inspector general’s investigation found problems with her “temperament and demeanor vis-a-vis her subordinates,” said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for 7th Fleet.

    Davis said he could not elaborate about what the IG had found about Graf’s treatment of her crew, but he said it had been taking place “over a length of time,” including when the ship was in port and at sea. Specifically, Donegan found Graf guilty of violating Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — which covers “cruelty and maltreatment” — and Article 133, “conduct unbecoming an officer,” according to information provided by Davis.

    Replacing Graf in command is Capt. Robert Marin, Davis said, who had already been scheduled to take over for her some time in January. Marin had been aboard the Cowpens since the end of December, making preparations for a normal change of command, so Donegan “ordered the change of command be executed immediately based on the non-judicial punishment and in the best interests of the ship and crew,” Davis said.

    Davis said he didn’t think an exact date had been set yet for a normal change of command, but that Marin was to have taken over before the end of January. Graf is under orders to move on to a new assignment on the Navy Staff in the Pentagon, Davis said — a move already scheduled before her relief this week.

    Her continuing into a job to which she had already been assigned is unusual for a Navy captain who has been relieved; many fired COs are assigned to the staff of their parent command and their careers effectively ended.

    Graf is a 1985 graduate of the Naval Academy, according to her official Navy biography; she commanded the destroyer Winston S. Churchill, among other assignments, before taking command of the Cowpens in March 2008.

  • Jim

    Probably pissed off some young sailor or officer and hurt their feelings……

  • GunDog15

    She was in one my DH classes and I remember thinking that if she ever gets command of a ship, I’ll resign my commission.

  • Sand Sailor

    Capt Graf Relieved and pushed off to the Pentagon? Does SHE get special consideration for being female? She should have been sent back to her parent command and given a job making pie charts or powerpoints on effective leadership skills.