Having just finished two glorious weeks in Coronado at Helicopter Control Officer school in March 1999, my first time in San Diego, I hadn’t had the time nor the mental capacity to fully prepare to embark on what was about to become the two most difficult years of my life. Ever. In retrospect, I really had no way of knowing it at the time.
I joined the Navy to see the world. Early on during service selection night, the second of only two female billets available on board USS La Salle, the then-U.S. 6th Fleet flag ship homeported out of Gaeta, was taken by a fellow woman SWOrrior candidate from the top third of our class.
I was in the bottom third.
I quickly reviewed my hand scripted cheat sheet to discover the only other overseas homeport option with billets available for women was Japan, Yokosuka or Sasebo. Since Yokosuka was closest to Tokyo, Yokosuka it was.
Out of sheer naiveté I had chosen the Aegis cruiser option because I thought if I was going to be a SWO – my second choice, the default career option – I was going ALL-in. CRUDES was the way to go. Cream of the crop. Best of the best.
Sidebar: Because what I really wanted to be was a public affairs officer, not an option straight out of the Academy, Marine Corps was my first choice since it was the quickest path to becoming a PAO. This is now utterly laughable. Thank God the Jarheads told me, “Thanks, but no thanks, Suzanna. And don’t let the door kick you in the ass on the way out.” Best rejection I ever received.
From SAN to HNL and then on to GUM, I reported for the billet I chose that fateful night in Annapolis eighteen months earlier, an FDNF (forward deployed Naval forces) CG serving at the “tip of the spear” in the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Since stepping off that plane, everything was a blur. Jetlagged and on a quasi-foreign island, I was rudely awakened to the fact I was no longer on my San Diego training boondoggle. I would later learn that Guam is actually a little slice of America in the vast Western Pacific, and I would look forward to return port visits there to ail my homesickness with some semblance of Western culture.
Before I arrived I had known for some time that I would be part of the Navy’s effort to properly integrate surface combatant crews. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1994, Congress repealed the prohibition on women serving on combatant vessels and aircraft.
I remember vividly as a youngster when the brigade received word that beginning with the class of ’96, women were not only able to serve on board combatants, but indeed would serve on board combatants. There was no choice in the matter. At the same time, women could no longer choose among a handful of restricted line or staff corps career options such as cryptology or supply corps that were generally reserved for NPQs (not physically qualified).
Unbeknownst to me, this seemingly small change in military policy would provide the seedlings of a seismic shift in the misogynistic subculture at USNA. A subculture with origins that could be traced back to when women were first admitted into the Service Academies twenty years earlier. This momentous cultural change was for the betterment of every possible outcome for our nation and our national defense. Furthermore, I have to believe that any remaining misogyny at the Academies has seriously diminished today. Culture is hard to change, but right is right and actions feed perceptions, which ultimately underpin cultural change.
Back on board my cruiser, I quickly learned that I was one of only four women comprising the entire crew of 350. With an air wing embarked, that number grew to about 375 (and no, the air wing from Atsugi did not bring any women aboard with it). The Navy’s strategy was to first integrate the combatant wardrooms, and then later bring aboard enlisted women. I served a whole year as one of four women officers on board ship before we welcomed aboard thirty women enlisted crew. When we did, I noticed my quality of life increased significantly.
To be perfectly blunt, I was not at all prepared to be “living in a fishbowl” environment, or “under a microscope” was more like it, as part of the 1% minority within the microcosm of ship life. (While I was at the Naval Academy, women comprised nearly 14% of the brigade of midshipmen.) And to make matters worse, I was equally unprepared to endure the loneliness from isolation of living as an American woman in Japanese society and within the broader context of Eastern culture. These were distinct choices that I had made on my own as a young adult, and when they came to fruition the end result was almost all that I could bear.
Learning to be an FDNF surface warfare officer in the late ‘90s was not for the faint of heart. It gave new meaning to the old adages that “SWOs eat their young” and “back-stabbing SWO.” Because we were forward deployed, we were underway A LOT. The one saving grace was that this was before 9/11, and we had visited nearly every single port imaginable in the Western Pacific, save for the Philippines. Twice, at least. We even hit Australia, though our port visits there were curtailed due to genocide that erupted in East Timor. Serving as part of the INTERFET forces was a noble and valiant mission, of which I am proudest.
With so few women on board and all four of us having very distinct personalities, pooling our forces to band together seemed futile. In the end, we really just tried to survive. Ours is not a story of girl-power or a “band of sisters” conquering all, but rather a story of individual perseverance for all four of us. Eventually, we did all earn our SWO qualifications and individually moved on with our Navy careers. I later became a public affairs officer, and still am one today.
I realize, back then, not all women called to integrate crews suffered the same fate that the four of us did my first year on board. I know this because when my ship performed a hull-swap/crew-swap mid-way through my tour, and I alone stayed aboard our original hull, the three new roommates I gained in the women’s JO jungle were more like sisters to me. We were from the same tribe.
Navigating the SWO qualification process and life aboard ship was still just as challenging as it had been before, but it was a lot more fun after I had found my sea sisters. Their friendship, laughter and all-out feminism radiated through me for the rest of my time on board. Just being present during the second-half of my one and only SWO tour, I am forever grateful for them.
And that’s the way it was. For me, anyway.
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?”, http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/01/22/john-boyds-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 ever 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!” 
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. 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.
 Forbes. “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” Accessed on August 31, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/power-women/
 The Guardian. “’Queen bee syndrome’ among women at work is a myth, study finds.” Accessed on August 31, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/07/queen-bee-syndrome-women-work-myth-research-columbia-business-school
The laws and norms surrounding the movement of economic goods across geopolitical boundaries are well-defined. By contrast, the ability to create and manipulate information has become ubiquitous and robust legal frameworks governing how state actors, individuals, and institutions interact with the information ecosystem do not yet exist. This creates risk and opportunity for state and non-state actors looking to devise new information manipulation tactics and make claims on this evolving space. Information control has always been a key component of strategy; however the current speed of evolution provides an advantage to potential disruptors, who do not have sunk costs in existing expensive processes and techniques. Whereas during the medieval period, a limited number of literate clergy had the ability to control the information space (which was explicitly linked to the capacity to wage war), today both state and non-state actors, no matter how marginal, have the ability to contribute to the information battlespace. Even a single, well-placed YouTube video, such as the beheading videos released by ISIL can influence military response.
Information is a non-rivalrous commodity, which should fundamentally change military investment profiles. In FY10, the United States spent $160B for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to CIA estimates of Al Qaeda’s 2010 operating budget of $30M. Despite 5,000 times more investment by the US, Al Qaeda continued to expand its influence throughout the region with involvement in Yemen, Russia, Syria, and by facilitating the eventual destabilization of Iraq. In the information age, spending and traditional military definitions of success no longer correlate with stable end states. It is more difficult to characterize 21st century conflicts in terms of definitive winners and losers than traditional industrial conflicts. It follows that post-industrial, digital-age conflicts will be characterized by informational pluralism, and that single source-point information control is no longer viable for military organizations.
The Department of the Navy’s (DON’s) information construct is currently divided along two objectives. One objective is to disseminate propaganda about the DON’s agenda and operations to a small circle of military-industrial and congressional elites who can afford 4-digit subscriptions to defense publications. The approach is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but also flawed in its assumption that “authoritative information” flowing out of the Navy information channels actually holds value in the information economy. The Navy information organization relies on humans to do the searching, processing, and dissemination of information, while most private-sector organizations, rely on advanced algorithms to fulfill these functions. Relying on humans results in slower processing speeds, increased error rates, and the bias that occurs from having associative, rather than random access, memory. Humans are subject to confirmation bias and will continually reinforce existing hypotheses with new information, rather than allowing the data itself to guide conclusions. In a world where decisions are made based on multiple sources, curated by digital systems, human-centric, centralized information systems are decreasingly relevant.
The second objective is to manipulate the information space as it is perceived by our adversaries, via network operations and psychological operations, for example. However, the efficacy of this construct is challenged by adversaries, many of whom recognize that they can achieve strategic objectives at minimal cost by creating a multiplicity of equally viable perceptions within the information space. While the US Navy continues to rely on an outdated approach to information, countries such as Russia and China understand how to apply pressure to their adversaries by insidiously manipulating information through a broad range of channels. This is evident in Russia’s substantial investments not only in internal propaganda machines such as RussiaTV, but more disturbingly Washington D.C. think tanks and London banking. Similarly, China’s ability to map connections and place pressure on individuals through data gathered in the OPM breach clearly indicates how information is valued in the Chinese defense paradigm.
The primary goal of the current battlespace information agenda is to have real-time ‘perfect’ information that is consistent from the tactical to the strategic level—the battlefield equivalent of the Waze app for traffic or Uber for transportation services. These capabilities are being developed using today’s information paradigms and technology, although they are unlikely to be operational for several years. However, with minimal investment, unsophisticated actors have the ability to disrupt this approach by making it impossible to distinguish real from fabricated threats. This is comparable to populating the Uber app with fake cars, eliminating users’ ability to distinguish between real and avatar drivers and therefore efficiently travel between points. The Russians demonstrated this approach in 2014 when they flooded social media channels with false reports of a chemical spill in Centerville, Louisiana. Optimizing the battlefield information ecosystem for real-time, perfect information piped through singular channels creates tremendous vulnerabilities when the potential for information oversaturation by an adversary is high.
Often times, DON assessments of novel approaches to the legal uses of information and weaponization (notably the use of disinformation) devolve into rights-based arguments focused narrowly on injunctive norms and “ethical” applications of information within defined legal realms such as intellectual property and privacy. While important, these conversations amongst military and political leadership often contribute little in terms of practical solutions and tend to overlook evolving challenges within the information space. The DON has been efficient in developing sweeping statements about the “importance of information” that never get adopted locally, while our adversaries continue to experiment with novel approaches in the information space. The military is the catastrophic backstop for the United States, and as adversaries invest aggressively and disruptively to control this evolving space, the DON will undoubtedly have a role to play in informing future frameworks and tactics.
In order to influence the information space, the DON must make investments in global cultural understanding. Cultural proficiency within the information space is not only paramount to generating information that produces the desired effects, but also critical to the DON’s ability to effectively mine the data of our adversaries. Effective use of information requires first-hand knowledge and cannot be outsourced to the intelligence community or communicated through powerpoint briefs. It requires understanding consumption habits, means of ingestion, and technical and semantic characteristics of information in a particular context. Close collaboration and immersion is necessary to understand subtle cultural constructs and the DON must grow this expertise or develop partnerships to provide the depth and breadth of cultural understanding across the DON needed to function in the information age.
Secondly, perhaps the greatest threat the DON faces is having its information ecosystem saturated with disinformation, or false positives. This mandates the use of advanced algorithms to parse the information ecosystem efficiently. Complex models and algorithms are often more art than science and heavily influenced by their creators. This capability must be developed organically, allowed to grow, and continually adapted by experts and integrators. This is a way of thinking that has become a core capability in an information world that resides in a small subset of synthesizers. It is non-transferable, cannot be trained, and cannot be outsourced. The DON must invest in finding and cultivating this unique set of talents. The US Navy must acknowledge its role and invest accordingly or it will find itself increasingly unable to compete on the information battlefield.
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.
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.
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
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.
Every foreign hostage killed or executed by ISIL since August 2014 shared something in common: they were marginal figures operating in the precarious environment faced by aid workers and journalists working in Syria.
Just over one year ago, the first Western hostage, James Foley, was executed by ISIL. The American journalist was executed on 19 August 2014, the very day designated[i] by the General Assembly to recognize those who face danger and adversity in order to help others. The date coincides with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.
These hostages fit a broader, shared profile. Universally described by their families, friends, and in their own words as giant-hearted and tireless in their commitment they sought to “show the world how bad it is” for the Syrian people enduring their fourth year of a devastating civil war. This war has now become a regional conflict with far-reaching impacts. Most immediately the humanitarian crisis emboldens desperate refugees and those who exploit them alike, and as autocratic governments target their own citizens they empower their opposition: chaotic, reactionary, anti-establishment groups seeking to impose their own extreme rule.
All three journalists executed by ISIL were freelance. Translation: All worked on shoestring budgets largely personally funded up front. They operated without the preapproved expense accounts from the larger media outlets to hire the serious fixers who are the most well-connected and best guarantee of their safety. This is the sad reality and result of foreign news bureaus being drastically cut over the past several years. Warzones that are fundamentally critical to Western national security interests are now perennially under-reported due to fact that mainstream news outlets have cut budgets for forward deployed journalists. Coverage is now largely dependent on freelance journalists whose security is individually negotiated. This grievous vacuum daily feeds the mainstream US news sources’ dependence on domestically sourced, too often self-appointed, so-called “authorities.” Meanwhile, the freelance journalists with the courage to uphold the principles of their profession, have to rely on individual instincts, relative experience, relationships formed on the ground and most of all, sheer luck.
Of the individuals taken while supporting humanitarian aid, only David Haines from the UK had a professional record as an aid worker beyond Syria. Haines was abducted just ten days after he arrived, having made the risky decision to live with another aid worker in the Syrian village of Atmeh where no other aid workers were based. Alan Henning, unwilling to stay home and not respond to the crisis, was a taxi-driver unaffiliated with a professional aid organization and was kidnapped while travelling with an informal convoy supported by fellow British citizens. Peter Kassig was equally unwilling to stand by, and had formed his own charity funded by his personal savings and the donations of family and friends. Kayla Mueller had worked for a few different aid organizations in Turkey and was taken after crossing the border into Syria, accompanying a technician friend who had been contracted for repairs in a clinic.[ii]
By their affiliation or personal decisions, none had the benefit of the political and security analysts employed by the professional humanitarian and media organizations. Or they chose to disregard this information. Their security was ultimately up to them. Haruna Yakawa fits neither category of journalist or aid worker, but his own tragically misguided presence proves the marginalized, ill-connected and poor decision-making point in the extreme.
The case for what unites these foreign hostages as naïve is sound, but not yet the complete picture. Significantly, all hostages identified here apart from Kenji Goto, were in ISIL custody prior to the first execution video of James Foley on 19 August 2015. The security situation had rapidly changed in the months preceding Foley’s execution as ISIL consolidated its leadership structure and published its case for establishing a Caliphate. By June, ISIL surged out of Anbar Province and seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second city. By September, the United Nations estimated that ISIL controlled up to a one-third of Iraq, and up to 40% of the country’s annual production of wheat.[iii]
As security and policy analysts, family members and friends of the victims, it is important to acknowledge that the accusation of the victims as naïve civilian operators in a well-established warzone is relative to the fact that the operational environment had completely changed in a short amount of time.
Each of the foreign hostages took tremendous personal risk in responding to the humanitarian crisis. Their deaths at the hands of ISIL are a tragedy to be mourned and their humanitarian spirit should never be forgotten. It is equally important to accord them the dignity they deserve. None were conscripted into their service, they all volunteered to go. If they disregarded their personal safety, it was for their personal ideals. In the words of James Foley, “I believe that frontline journalism is important. Without these photos and videos and first-hand experience, we can’t really tell the world how bad it might be.”
[i] Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 11 December 2008 63/139. Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations. http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/63/139
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.
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.
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.
Let’s face it – we’ve all had to make hard decisions under the pressures of fatigue and stress. But, is that what Navy sailors do on a daily basis just to survive, even in times of peace? Research has shown time and time again that sleep deprivation can have the effects akin to being intoxicated. While there have been numerous studies that alert naval leaders to the dangers of sleep deprivation, I would be hard pressed to name one sea command that has actually done something to address this issue. Until now.
Having just completed my department head tours on a Pacific-based destroyer whose Captain took crew sleep seriously, I can say that sufficient sleep is possible – even on deployment – and that the results are astounding! The “sleep initiative” takes on the human factors side of Operational Risk Management (ORM) to create a more holistic approach to minimizing chances of a mishap. While deployed on a seven month journey to the western Pacific, the basic schedule went like this:
0700-1900: (12 hour work day)
1900: Quiet Hours (no 1MC usage)
The majority of my crew already enjoyed four section static watches (3 hours on, 9 hours off) to allow for a normal circadian rhythm and predicable watch routine. The work day hours were adjusted accordingly within the 07000-1900 window to afford everyone the opportunity to rest for eight hours. Some of those eight hours might have been spent watching tv, reading a book, or relaxing… but the idea was to give sailors a chance to unwind and take care of their personal needs. The decrease in apparent work hours did not translate to less work being accomplished. In fact, not only did we increase efficiency, but we increased morale and decreased operational risk.
Our underway schedule didn’t always afford sailors the perfect eight hours, but it was the best attempt I’ve seen to date. Our sailors LOVED the later reveille time and a full 12 hours of no 1MC announcements. Sailors were happier, more resilient, alert, and well-balanced. Ultimately, the ship was safer and more combat ready being led by sailors whose minds were sharp.
No one would give their car keys to a friend who wasn’t sober. So why is it acceptable practice to routinely allow our shipmates the license to operate a billion-plus dollar warship while fatigued? I make the following recommendations to all at-sea commanders:
- Implement a ship-specific human factors initiative to address the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of your sailors as it relates to ORM.
- Limit meetings, evolutions, and 1MC announcements to fit within a 12 hour work day.
- Change the cultural mindset that sleep deprivation is a “SWO reality.” It’s simply not true.
Stay awake at the helm – our survival as a surface community depends on it.