First Female Commanding Officer of a U.S. Navy Ship

LCDR Darlene Iskra smiles shortly after her appointment as commanding officer of USS Opportune (ARS-41), February 1991. DOD Still Media Photograph: DN-ST-91-06050.

LCDR Darlene Iskra smiles shortly after her appointment as commanding officer of USS Opportune (ARS-41), February 1991. DOD Still Media Photograph: DN-ST-91-06050.

Dec. 27 marks 22 years since LCDR Darlene Iskra reported for duty aboard USS Opportune (ARS-41).  She would later become the first female commanding officer of a U.S. Navy ship when she assumed responsibility as the ship’s CO.

Today, we recognize CDR (Ret.) Iskra’s accomplishments during her 21 years of military service – marked by several firsts for female Sailors, including qualifying as a Surface Warfare Officer, service as a sea-going officer, as well as one of the first three female Sailors to attend the Naval School of Diving and Salvage.

She holds an MA in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., and an MA and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland. Today, she writes books about women in military service.

Below, CDR (Ret.) Iskra reflects with Naval History & Heritage Command on her career.

“I hadn’t realized what a big deal being the first woman to command a ship would be until I arrived in Naples, and on my desk was a stack of congratulatory cards and letters from people I didn’t even know! I also got a few cards from people I hadn’t heard from in literally decades! Soon afterwards, the public affairs officer from Naples asked to do an interview. That was the one that was published soon after I took command, to news outlets all over the world, even in Saudi Arabia, which freaked my husband out, as even back then we were worried about terrorism.

About three weeks after I took command, Desert Storm started in the Gulf and we were ordered underway towards the Suez Canal to intervene in case the Canal was mined or otherwise blocked. We picked up an [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] team in La Maddalena, Sardinia, and headed to an area on the Mediterranean side of the canal, where we stayed for the entire duration of the war. No mines were laid, though we did have several interesting incidents, but those are stories for another day.”

CDR (Ret.) Iskra shared more memories of her 21 years in the Navy and what it meant to her in this video.

To see more photos of her naval career, check NHHC’s Facebook album.