By Rear Adm. Rick Williams
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
Surface ships and submarines routinely deploy from their homeport here at Pearl Harbor. The two guided-missile destroyers that most recently returned from deployment to Indo-Asia-Pacific are USS O’Kane (DDG 77) and USS Halsey (DDG 97).
Each happens to be commanded by a woman.
Cmdr. Gina McCaine is commanding officer of O’Kane. Cmdr. Linda Seymour is CO of Halsey. Both ships are namesakes of great World War II heroes who were very familiar with Pearl Harbor and the Pacific – Adm. “Bull” Halsey and Rear Adm. Richard O’Kane, legends in our Navy’s history and heritage.
During Women’s History Month, it’s fitting to reflect on the history and achievements our Navy has made and continues to make in advancing opportunities for women in uniform. In warfighting roles, in wardrooms and at the highest levels, women are leaning in, operating forward and making a difference.
One year ago at this time, USS Hopper (DDG 70) was on an eight-month deployment to build partnerships and provide maritime security in Indo-Asia-Pacific. And, speaking of significant namesakes, Hopper is named for one of our Navy’s cyber heroes, legendary Rear Adm. “Amazing Grace” Hopper.
Grace Hopper was born in 1906, two years before women were allowed to join the Navy and more than a dozen years before women were granted the right to vote. She passed away in 1992, twenty years after a pilot program was commissioned by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Zumwalt to evaluate women serving aboard Navy ships.
Obviously that pilot program was successful. Women have been serving routinely on ships since the 70s and on combatant ships since 1994.
Today, women serve with distinction throughout the Department of the Navy: aboard ships and submarines, as pilots and as commanding officers, including Cmdrs. McCaine and Seymour.
The first women naval aviators earned their wings in 1974. Women Submarine Warfare Officers earned their “dolphins” (warfare devices) in 2012, and enlisted women will be integrated aboard submarines later this year.
Women and men equally are standing the watch right now worldwide to defend freedom and protect the homeland. Women have the knowledge, skills, rights and abilities to serve at the highest levels of our military, witness Adm. Michelle Howard, Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
It is important to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come in the past century and in this generation.
Our monthly Pearl Harbor Colors ceremony helps us commemorate the history and heritage of our service and spotlight those who serve – past and present.
Our March 19, Pearl Harbor Colors event at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is being held with a theme of “Lean In, Operate Forward: Women’s History and Heritage.”
Among the highlights is a tribute to the women and men of USS O’Kane and USS Halsey, as recently deployed warfighters, and including recognition of namesake USS Hopper.
We are honored to be joined by special guest of honor Ms. Eugenia Woodward, a former member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services). Ms. Woodward served in Norfolk and Philadelphia during World War II.
When we highlight individuals, groups and cultures we recognize the rich diversity of our team – different ranks, backgrounds and experiences but with a unity of purpose and a common mission throughout history.
As one of the visitors at last month’s Pearl Harbor Colors ceremony said, “It’s great that you honor everyone’s heritage and perspective. If everyone respected each other and tried to understand each other and took it to heart, the world would be more peaceful.”
During Women’s History Month let’s celebrate the achievements our Navy and nation have made to expand freedom and ensure equal opportunity.