By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Word
Vice Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti joined the Sailors aboard Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), in celebration of Women’s History Month to recognize the significant additions women have made to our history, heritage and society.
Women’s History Month is recognized during March in the United States, The United Kingdom and Australia and traces its roots back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911. In the U.S., congress voted in 1987 to designate the entire month as Women’s History Month.
“Throughout history, the Navy has evolved and over time has changed to provide equal opportunities to women and other minorities. As a result, we have been able to capitalize on the strengths and contributions of all Sailors,” said Franchetti. “I feel like I’ve had the chance to be a little bit of a pioneer, and maybe paved the way for some who are following behind me in my wake, just like I had a lot of people who broke down some barriers for me.”
The very first women to serve in the Navy were nurses. In 1862 Sisters of the Holy Cross served aboard the Navy’s first hospital ship USS Red Rover. They were considered nurses on a Navy ship, not actual members of the Navy. In 1908 Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps, and women have found ways to serve ever since. Today Hospital Corpsmen carry on the tradition of the original Navy nurses.
“I really liked the idea of being a hospital corpsman, and learning about the medical field rather than just going to nursing school and not knowing whether or not I would like it,” says Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class (HM3) Carolyn Dunham. “I thought I would get the hands-on experience, then later decide if that’s something I want to do. It was a big decision, but so far I am really happy with it.”
World War I brought about the first large-scale enlistment of women into the Navy however, due to shortages, their jobs were mostly clerical and almost solely based in Washington, D.C. Mere months before the U.S. committed to entering World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Navy’s Women Reserve Program which opened the door for both officer and enlisted women to take on more roles and the responsibility of leadership.
“When I first got out high school, I don’t think that I was really sure of myself, and I know that being in the military has made me more aware of the things that I can accomplish,” says Aviation Electronics Technician First Class Aerial Lucky assigned to the “Ghostsriders” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 embarked aboard the Mount Whitney. “I was relied on heavily in my shop to make sure that others got the same training and knowledge that I received in the past to make sure that we could continue to have people for our mission and to carry out our operations. One day I was teaching someone the aircraft and I turned around and that someone turned into five or six people, and it just became more and more. That’s when I realized that I was a leader.”
In the post WW2 era The Women’s Armed Forces Act of 1948 allowed women to serve in the peacetime military with some restrictions. Throughout the next decades women became more and more invaluable to the Navy, and in 1972 the Navy welcomed its first female admiral. 1974 would see the Navy designate their first female aviator. Many female pilots have joined the Navy since.
“I consider it extremely fortunate to be able to fly on a regular basis,” says Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Sarah Black, a pilot assigned to the HSC-28 “Ghostsriders.” “It is a lot of fun. It is a really great career. I am very lucky to be able to do what I get to do. You don’t even notice the difference between male and female. It just ends up being one team.”
The first orders assigning women to a combat vessel were signed in 1994 to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The vessel was able to prepare temporary berthing and facilities for the newly embarked female Sailors but it wasn’t ready to maintain full integration. Shortly after, the Mount Whitney became the first Navy combat vessel to make permanent accommodations for women.
“I think it is a great honor to be on the Mount Whitney,” says Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class (IC3) Alicia Carlton. “Maybe for a woman who was one of the first female Sailors on this ship, it was an eye-opener and an experience she has probably never forgotten. For me, it is just a part of my everyday life. All the way back to women voting, in the military, the first nurses, the first pilots, the first admirals, all of those women have paved the way for the rest of us to come through.”
The Mount Whitney currently maintains a crew that consists of twenty-six percent women, greater than the Navy-wide average of twenty percent. Although the Navy of the past may not have had the concerns of women at the fore-front of its priorities, that mind-set is rapidly changing, if not altogether evolved. Women serve in nearly every capacity in today’s Navy, from pilots and admirals, to journalists and rescue divers.
“I am here and have always felt included with never any separation for gender, or differences in general,” says Logistics Specialist Chief (LSC) Maritza Hernandez. “It makes you feel comfortable. It makes you not worry on any of this, you know, CMEO (Command Managed Equal Opportunity) related matters and lets you focus on what you have to focus on. Those issues are not a concern, so you can perform at one-hundred percent. Just having a SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) program which, for many years, didn’t even exist, those kind of issues were not even addressed, and now they are. It gives you so much room to get better and better.”
The Navy continues to celebrate Women’s History Month through the end of March, but the need to recognize and honor the contributions and sacrifices women have made for their rights and our nation has no time-frame.
“Women’s History Month is just a time for us to pay tribute and homage to females in the military that had the honor and courage to join,” said Lucky. “I am willing to do whatever I have to do to help the team, whatever I have to do to help the fight. I feel that is what this month is really portraying…the women who have come before us and paved the way for us to be here.”
Mount Whitney, forward deployed to Gaeta, Italy, operates with a hybrid crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civilian mariners.