During a celebratory event at the Dam Neck Annex galley, March 24, Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana joined the Navy and the nation in celebrating Women’s History Month.
The event highlighted various women that have proudly served the military and Navy throughout its history and embodied the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. The event was also proud to host two guest speakers who have also honorably served the Navy, Retired Command Master Chief Nielsa Porter, and Senior Retired Chief Logistics Specialist Debra Walker.
Women’s service in the Navy dates back to the 1800s, the first official record of women at sea is from a U.S. warship log showing women serving as contract nurses for the War of 1812. During the Civil War women served as nurses when the Sisters of the Holy Cross served aboard USS Red Rover, the Navy’s first hospital ship. In 1948, women gained permanent status in the Navy with the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.
Nearly a century and a half later in 1978, women began serving aboard support and non-support ships, putting the Women in Ships program into force. Women had been serving on ships long before Congress approved the change to the combat exclusion law.
“Change is always going to come, at first it may be hard to make it work but eventually it will work for all of us,” Porter said. “Never would I have thought that my journey through life and in the Navy would have been so rewarding but I look back on my career in awe and appreciation.”
Today women serve at sea in virtually every capacity and in every rank from seamen to admiral. They hold nearly every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver. Nineteen percent of the Navy’s enlisted force are women, including eight percent of all senior and master chiefs. Eighteen percent of the officer force and 11 percent of all admirals are comprised of women.
In the Navy’s civilian workforce, 27 percent are women and 26 percent are Senior Executive Service members.
“Perseverance and commitment was the key to my success and is what women need in order to continue to be successful in the Navy,” Porter said. “They must trust in their ability and never stop pushing themselves and their skills to the next level.”
Over the last century, women have served onboard auxiliary ships beginning in 1978 and on combatant ships beginning in 1994. In 2016, the DOD opened all military occupations and positions to women.
“We celebrate this month together because we are supporting not only our past, but our future, and that is what I see when I look at all of the young women in uniform here today,” Walker said. “The opportunities you all have, to be able to shape the future, is a blessing.”