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By Lt. Kathleen Barrios, USS Forrest Sherman Public Affairs
“Reveille, reveille, all hands heave out” is the first word heard over the general announcing system aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98). Sailors of all ranks and rates get out of their racks and begin the day. Men and women work side-by-side to ensure maintenance, cleaning, operations and planning is optimized to guarantee the continued success of the ship.
It was not until the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 that women were allowed equal pay, rank and privileges in the military. Later in 1994, Congress repealed the Combat Exclusion Law which then allowed women to serve aboard surface combatant ships. Today, with over 185,000 women among all ranks in the Department of the Navy and with over 70 women onboard Forrest Sherman, women continue to shatter barriers.
On August 26th, the U.S. Navy celebrated Women’s Equality Day, highlighting the contributions of all women, recognizing gender equality and appreciating diversity. Operating on a naval warship overseas and away from home in contested waters is no easy task. The women of today’s Navy are resilient, courageous and strong. They fly the fastest aircraft, drive the most powerful and advanced warships, and lead Sailors aboard submarines into the depths of the ocean. It’s crystal clear that the women of the past several decades paved an incredible path for the women of today; while the women of today are creating an incredible future for the next generation of leaders.
Aboard Forrest Sherman, there are women serving in every billet from Fire Controlman to Logistics Specialist to Quartermaster, in charge of loading the ammunition into the Close-in Weapons System, ensuring that the parts and supplies are ordered to maintain the equipment, and ensuring the route is verified for the safe navigation of the ship. These jobs are difficult, the days are long and they require serious attention to detail. “There are days where it may be hard or challenging, but joining the Navy gives you the chance to serve your country and I’m proud to say I’m in the Navy serving my country,” said Seaman Trinity Rodriguez.
“As a woman in the Navy, my experience has been both rewarding and challenging,” said Chief Logistics Specialist Aukitrian Elmore. “I've always enjoyed being a Logistics Specialist (LS) but it was difficult adjusting to so many people giving orders when I had left home to avoid that. My very first Leading Chief Petty Officer told me that the key to success was learning my rate, attaining qualifications, shining my boots, and arriving to work on time. I changed my outlook and ever since then I've had the opportunity to take control of an F-18 and a C-130, drive a warship, walk to the top of the Eiffel Tower, transform 900 civilians into Sailors, and oversee a $12M budget with four of the best LS's in the fleet. All while attempting to maintain some degree of those four small expectations that I received as a Seaman trying to adjust to Navy life.”\
Understanding both the external stress of being away from home and the internal stress of a grueling job, the ladies of Forrest Sherman have come together to create a group called “Battle Sisters.” The group is comprised of all ranks and rates, from the highest ranking Officer to the seasoned Chief Petty Officer to the newly checked-aboard junior enlisted Sailor. The military is still a male-dominated workplace with only 25 years of women being allowed to serve on warships. By creating Battle Sisters, every female Sailor aboard the ship is exposed to female leaders, despite potentially not having any women in their direct chain of command. It fosters diversity of thought, opens the opportunity to discuss and compare experiences and creates an environment for potential mentorship to occur.
“I have had great days and not so great days in the Navy, just like everyone else,” said Lt. Cmdr. Heather Ehrlich, Flag Aide for Rear Adm. Scott Sciretta, Commander of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2). “I always take lessons and bits of wisdom from good and bad experiences I've had and apply them to how I lead. I hope that as a leader and a woman I can influence at least one person to reach for their goals and see all the possibilities in the world.”
By creating a forum for all ranks and rates to come together to discuss important issues and provide support for each other, always encouraging diversity of thought, we will only become stronger as a team. “Whether you join for a 30 year career or as a stepping stone for future endeavors, there is always an opportunity to excel both personally and professionally,” said Chief Logistics Specialist Aukitrian Elmore. “Be the change you wish to see, trust the journey, and never shrink yourself for someone else's comfort. You were meant to be you, unapologetically!”
The incredible women of the past opened the door for the opportunities presented to today’s current leaders. Imagine what another 25 years of these efforts could bring to future leaders. “Be the change that you’re looking for,” said Ensign Maria Gholson. “If you want to see more women in leadership, be the woman in a leadership position and others will follow your example.”
Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) is the flagship for Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2), a multinational integrated task group that projects a constant and visible reminder of the Alliance’s solidarity and cohesion afloat and provides the Alliance with a continuous maritime capability to perform a wide range of tasks, including exercises and real-world operations in periods of crisis and conflict.