As the Navy continues to evolve and progress and time advances into a new year, it can be beneficial to look back at specific landmarks and achievements within the Navy that continue to affect and benefit service members.
Michelle Suzanne Halbsgut and her career in the Navy is one such example of progress. Halbsgut, enlisting in the Navy and graduating from boot camp in 1980 was assigned to USS Lexington (CV 16) for her first command, becoming one of the first females to serve aboard an aircraft carrier.
Her story, like many before and after her, reflects both hardships and personal victories that embody Naval service and how it has evolved through the years.
“At the time I enlisted I was attending college and working full time. Financially, it was becoming difficult, as was the schedule,” said Halbsgut. “Someone mentioned that the military would provide financial security and opportunity to continue with my schooling; plus travel, which I love to do.”
Many women have served in the United States Navy, beginning with the establishment of the United States Navy Nurse Corps in 1908, inducting its first female Sailors into the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1917, the creation of Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) in the second world war and the advent of women serving aboard ships in 1978, opening the Surface Warfare community to all. Today, there are over 50,000 women serving on active duty in an array of traditional and non-traditional ratings or careers.
“When I was given orders to the ship, at first I thought it was an error. I wondered if I was reading my orders properly,” said Halbsgut. “Although taken by surprise initially, the adventurous side of me shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘ok, here we go.’”
Halbsgut said she looked at the opportunity with excitement and enthusiasm.
“I attended two weeks of firefighter school prior to being flown via a Chinook helicopter and landing on what appeared to be a very small vessel in the middle of the sea. Of course, it was not small at all. I never had reservations because I am the type to take on any challenge placed in front of me,” said Halbsgut.
Halbsgut said though she was new to the Navy she never felt overwhelmed by her assignment, or that it was too difficult.
“Although small in stature, I was given an opportunity to prove myself bigger, stronger and just as capable as the men on board, in a place where generally only men live and work,” said Halbsgut. “I enjoyed performing the same exact tasks as the men and keeping up. I spoke freely, and said what I felt and believed, and gained respect.”
The idea that certain jobs are better suited for men and men alone is redefined in the Navy. Stereotypes are overridden by determination, by proven capabilities, and by a shared appreciation for work that’s driven by hands-on skills and adrenaline. In the Navy, women who seek to pursue what some may consider male-dominated roles are not only welcome, they’re wanted — in dozens of dynamic fields.
Looking back on her time in the Navy, Halbsgut admits she wishes she had made the choice to serve longer than, but she carries her experiences with her and carries her achievements with pride.
“It was a privilege to have served in the United States Navy and I am honored to have been one of the first females in Naval history to be stationed aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier,” said Halbsgut
Halbsgut she believes in the importance of a diverse Navy and one that takes pride in its female members.
“Female skills vary just as much as men, they can lead by demonstrating strength, endurance, and patience when and where needed,” said Halbsgut. “Other countries are able to witness this diversity and the microcosm of the American ‘melting pot’. Diversity in the Navy shows the citizens of America that they are being protected by and represented in the Navy because of its service members of all races, male and female.”
The Navy continually strives to be a place where individuals can attain leadership positions, further their educations and truly achieve something beyond themselves by serving their country — locally and globally. This focus on diversity is both a commitment now and a promise for the future.
To get a better feel for the diverse people and communities that make up the Navy, seek out and interact with Navy servicemembers and veterans who have achieved their dreams in the Navy, Michelle Halbsgut and her story is one of many.
“My advice for new Sailors and more specifically female Sailors is to stand strong. Don’t let the anyone take advantage of you physically, mentally or emotionally,” said Halbsgut. “If you carry yourself with strength and confidence, it shows to others that you belong there along with everyone else serving our country.”