The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
(Angie Giovannini Intro) In two thousand fifteen, the Department of Defense announced that they were opening front-line combat roles to women for the first time in American history. In two thousand sixteen, they were given the opportunity to apply to the Navy SEALs and SWCC. But female sailors have deployed with SEAL teams and other special operations units for years in important, front-line roles.
In this episode, I speak with two such women who have deployed multiple times with America’s elite special operations units, and still serve with them today.
First you’ll hear from Jannelle, who is serving on active duty with the training staff at BUD/S.
AG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I know you have a pretty unique perspective, and so let’s start out with you just telling us a little bit about what you do, how you got to where you are, a little background.
J: Sure. I’ve worked with NSW in the past. My last command was here in Coronado, so that’s a SWCC command, and I was approached from my Command Master Chief about the women in Special [Operations] Forces and if I wanted to support that initiative and come to the Center and kind of be in the role where you establish the transition from just a male pipeline to open it to females. So, obviously, I was totally, totally onboard with going over to the Center just cause I love the community and wanted to stay within it, and, yeah, support the whole full integration of women.
AG: And what attracted you to this community? What was it about it?
J: When I first joined the Navy, I just really wanted to do anything that was active and physically demanding. I played sports in college and pretty much my whole life, CrossFit, things like that, so I was drawn to the physicality and also, to be quite honest, I didn’t want to be on a ship.
AG: And when you are on deployment or in operation, in operational zones, what would you say life is like? What’s your everyday life that you can talk about?
J: It’s been mostly with SEAL teams deployment and then also EOD, and it’s, so a normal day really is a normal night. Most everything is done at night on deployment, and it’s, I think I have a unique deployment experience just because deploying with a SEAL team is just such a close-knit group. You become like almost a family, especially because it’s such a small, small group. But, yeah, the days are, days are long. You know, I spend a lot of time in the tactical operations center just cause I do Intelligence and really just supporting the troop as much as I can for their operations.
AG: Can you explain a little bit what “Intelligence” means?
J: Sure, so Intelligence in the Navy is just basically analyzing threats and, in a tactical sense, targeting essentially the enemy forces.
AG: You mentioned how important it is the camaraderie that happens when you’re on these missions. Can you talk about the importance of teamwork, especially from the perspective of someone that is being attached to different teams at different times? How does that work, the dynamic?
J: Yeah, I think teamwork is the reason this community is so successful. I think from a very beginning, you, you start doing everything together, you know, and you embrace, like I didn’t go through BUDS, obviously, but you do go through workups on deployment, and it kind of sucks. So, what I like to say is you embrace the suck together, and you, you certainly build a trust and camaraderie with one another, so, where you gain credibility, and people learn to trust you, you know, and see if you’re good at your job. I think that if you don’t have that, you know, you’re not going to be very successful in this type of community because everything is build off personal relationships and teamwork.
AG: How do you feel, what’s your method for establishing trust since it’s so important?
J: I think, for me, I just go in super humble in every, every experience and every opportunity. You know, if I don’t know something, I’ll be the first to say I don’t know it, but I’m super eager to learn, and this community I think is, if you do have like the urge to do something and want to learn something, then you’ll be super successful. You just have to have the motivation. I think that that’s what makes it stand out from other commands in the Navy. You’re super happy to come to work and be a part of the team. I think you just feel you’re contributing to something a lot bigger than yourself.
AG: Amazing. How do you prepare for that mentally and physically?
J: For deployments? Well, like I said, you know, you become close, and then it just becomes…
AG: Before you go, you mean?
J: Yeah, you get pretty close with your troops, spend a lot of time together, maybe too much time, but you just develop a sense of like unity and camaraderie. I hate to use that word over and over again, but it really has been something that I’ve really, really, really enjoyed at this command.
AG: Is there anything that stands out to you, you know, we’re talking to young people who might just be considering a career in this direction someday. Is there anything recently that you could, just makes you feel proud of, of doing what you do?
J: Being at the Center,
(AG) To clarify, when she says "Center" she is referring to the Naval Special Warfare Center, the SEAL and SWCC training headquarters.
I’m, you know, pretty proud every day. You see these students training every day, like giving everything they got. I would hate to be in their shoes, to be quite honest, but they, it’s something to be said, you know, you get to see them coming from boot camp and then, you know, training for 63 weeks, and then finally, they pin on a trident, and you, you’ve kind of gone through that whole procedure with them and provided support to them, you know, cause SEAL teams wouldn’t be able to do much of anything, and SWCC, without support. So, I think that that’s super important, and it’s just coming to work wanting to support the operators and then also having that good working relationship.
AG: And, so if someone, you know, who maybe doesn’t know a ton about this but has seen a few things on TV or in movies, and they’re just interested, what would you say to them? How would you start the conversation?
J: I think it’s super nerve-wracking to even want to get into this type of community, but the Scout Team, the website and the people involved in the recruiting and the instructors are really knowledgeable, so I just, you know, urge them to just take a chance and reach out and get some information, even if it’s kind of nerve-wracking and intimidating because it is for I think most people, you know, when they think of like the Navy in general, like the majority of the population isn’t even, can’t even, you know, pass the standards to get in, and those certain few who are to get in this community is even a little tighter, but just take a chance and give it a try.
AG: One thing that has come up a lot, and in particular with the SEALs and SWCC, is mentorship, and even though you didn’t go through BUDS, you have, you are following a very similar track. Do you, do you think mentorship is important in the way that you’ve gone about things?
J: Oh, yes, I think it’s absolutely pivotal on being successful in the Navy and especially for like this type of community. Those guys, the candidates get mentorship from pretty much the second they walk into a recruiting office. They have a really good Warrior Challenge program. There’s guys all over the country who provide mentorship from the second they sign up, and then for support side, me, you know, I’ve had a lot of mentors in this community throughout my entire career who I’ve kept in touch with, and you just see them checking in to be an instructor. You know, it’s like you cross paths again and just, yeah, it’s, I think mentorship is really invaluable in this community and in general.
AG: What are some of the ways that that has changed your experience?
J: I guess with me, I had a particular incident on deployment where I had to fly home really quickly, and they provided support that was unimaginable, and it’s something that I’ll certainly never forget and developed a sense of just really, a lot of pride, and, you know, comfortability, and they just support the members so, so incredibly, and I think that that’s what draws me to this community so much, and it just kind of transfers over. I guess your question was about mentorship, but I think the trust and mentorship kind of go hand in hand, so just having that trusting relationship where you respect somebody, I think they naturally become a mentor.
AG: And do you, if you look back at how you got to where you are, what would you do the same, what would you do differently?
J: For me, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I just love the community, and it turns out, it worked out really well, you know, made Chief, got to do several deployments, so I don’t think I would change much, maybe deploy a couple more times. That’ll come hopefully soon, but we’ll see.
AG: Well, we wish you luck on that. What kind of advice would you give to people who are interested in the same career path?
J: I would certainly say to follow what interests you, and then I think good things will follow if you just have a good work ethic, you know, and, but a lot of people, they take jobs to promote. Well I take jobs for quality of life and experience, and that’s worked out for me, so I think more so instead of just trying to move up in ranks as quick as you can. Really go somewhere where you’ll have a good experience and learn a lot more than just raising your hand to do any opportunity to promote.
AG: If we could take it step, back a few steps. You have some great advice on following what you’re passionate about. What about before you ever get to that point, before you ever actually come into the military, if someone’s considering their career, what are some steps that you would say in the civilian world someone should take to prepare themselves properly and be ready for it?
J: Right, that’s a good question. So, I grew up in sports all my life, individual sports and team sports, and I think that helped a lot when I got to boot camp and then further in commands just because you have, you have an understanding of how a team works and what it takes to get a job done. Most everything in the military is not done individually. It is a team effort, so I think if you have that understanding of, of teamwork and what it means to be a good part of a team, an effective team member, I think you’ll really go far, and then also the mental toughness piece has become huge and pretty much a buzzword it seems like in this command. But I think it really, really helps to just understand that everything, for me, I just kind of tell myself, “It’s all going to end in a couple hours,” you know, like the day, whatever task you’re doing. I think it’s important just to be like mentally tough and try to increase your mental strength.
AG: If you were speaking specifically to the females who might want to follow in your footsteps, is it different? Do they have to look at things differently? Do you feel like they should just tackle it the same way?
J: I think just being, you know, female in the military, you’re still a minority, and although the numbers are increasing, there’s something to be said about minorities. You might have to work a little harder, feel like you have to work a little harder, but again, it’s kind of like mass in numbers. You know, you’re outnumbered a bit, so do your best to stand out, and do your job as best you can, and I think your credibility and, you know, how well you get the job done will speak for itself.
AG: Have you, have you run into any obstacles because of that, or have you dealt with that?
J: You know, I never have really had any instances where I felt there was an equality barrier. Again, I attribute that to this community I’ve been in throughout my whole career, you know, from when I was super young, coming out of boot camp, then going to IS [Intelligence Specialist] ‘A’ school. I checked into a command, and two weeks later, I deployed, and it was a little nerve-wracking, but, yeah, it was just acceptance into the team, and then I never, I never felt like I was behind the power curve for being a female.
AG: Didn’t have time to think about it.
J: Yeah, I felt like, you know, like I said, you establish yourself as a working professional and somebody who’s respectful, and then it kind of just follows easily.
AG: Do you think that that’s the case for most women?
J: I guess I can’t speak to their experience, but again, mine, mine has been exceptionally favorable. I don’t really have any negative things to say. For me, it’s, it’s been really good.
AG: So, something someone might not know… as a female attached to a Special Operations team, are you expected to be at the same physical level, are you expected to pass the same tests, or how does that work?
J: No, we’re not, like I said, the standards are a bit different, and we don’t have to take the PSTs or anything like that, but here, like PT is just really pushed, you know, and it’s at, you have every opportunity to get faster, to get stronger. You know, we have like running coaches and strength coaches and all, so, yeah, I think it’s a huge advantage than just a regular like Navy command, but they don’t look at you differently, or I’ve never been looked at differently just because I can’t bust out 25 pull-ups like with the BUDS instructor next to me working out.
AG: And that’s attributed to the nature of what you do versus what some of the other teammates are doing or?
J: Maybe, yeah, I think that everybody here’s just, I guess they don’t really lead with their physical strength. You know, it’s more of like a functional strength and functional like your job, whatever you need to do your job is how you’re I guess looked at. So, somebody who works in admin, I just guess there wouldn’t be an expectation of them to deadlift their body weight times two.
AG: No, it’s a helpful insight because just because you’re aligned with a SEAL team, it, obviously, you’re all being held to very high standards physically and mentally, but it’s good for people to understand that there are differences depending on what you’re doing on deployment.
J: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I wouldn’t, I would never try to compete against a SEAL beside me, but, you know, the workouts are together, and everybody kind of encourages everybody to be in the best shape you can, regardless of if you work in admin or supply or intel or ops. You know, everybody is physically pretty on par with supporting one another.
AG: Do you, are there different tests that you have along the way to, to keep you in a certain kind of shape? Like is there a certain minimum pull-ups and things like that that you have to stick to?
J: Nope, we just do the standard Navy test, and then other instructors, some females are in instructor roles at the center, and during the instructor qualification course, you take the TAP assessment, which is the Tactical Athlete [Program] assessment, and it’s basically a point scale, and from there, you just kind of get a workout program to increase yourself to be a better instructor if you will.
AG: So, what I’m hearing that I think is really important to reiterate for anyone who might be listening is that you, as a woman, you might be intimidated by this community because it’s, it is very male dominated, but there are a lot of different jobs associated with Special Operations, and so it’s not just being a SEAL or being SWCC. It’s a lot of different things, and so you have a wide variety to choose from.
J: Absolutely, and NSW has been integrated for such a long time that it’s really commonplace to see women everywhere, and like I said, you’re supported, you know, if you, if you do your job well, it’s a really like close-knit, supportive type community.
AG: That’s really great to hear. Do you think, that seems like something that’s changed pretty rapidly in the last, what would you say, five years or?
J: Yeah, I guess I’ve been in about 12 years, and now I see like much more women, you know, in like what seems like Naval Special Warfare, which is good, yeah. There’s no closed rates or anything.
AG: What would you say to a friend of yours, a female friend who said that they want to be a Navy SEAL?
J: I would say that’s awesome. Do it. I think that there are certainly quality, quality candidates, male and female, you know, who, who need to still join the ranks of SEALS and diversify it a little bit more and be an even stronger force than they already are with diversity.
AG: Nice. Well, so let’s go back to where we were. Do you have any just, what’s your favorite thing about doing what you do? What do you just love about it? What wakes you up in the morning?
J: Honestly, my favorite thing about this community is deploying. I love to deploy, and people look at me like I’m crazy, but I think it’s where you get to really do your job, and you really develop that closeness. For each day, it’s really interacting with the people I work with, like I like it. I think that some people, you know, I hear like nightmare stories like about coworkers and how they just don’t get along, and they dislike them, and I think that it’s pretty terrible, and I do love the fact that I can work out every day and have like an awesome facility and awesome coaches, you know, at my disposal pretty much.
AG: And you mentioned before just the quality of people that you’re around all the time.
J: Yeah, that would be the most part, and that’s why I hope that I can stay in this community until retirement.
AG: It seems like you’ve got a pretty good chance. What else would you like to say? This is, you know, I’d like to give you an opportunity to just speak about, you know, this community that you love so much and what you would say to someone, you know, say I’m 20 years old and just thinking about my options in life. What’s your advice?
J: I would say even though it just changed, you know, the doors just opened, and it is something new for females, don’t let that deter you. Like I said, my experience has been incredible, and I think that somebody who has a heart to do this and who’s motivated and dedicated really and has that teamwork aspect down, I think that it could be a really exciting career. And again, just like diversity makes any force to be reckoned with, and it’s what allows you to, to really just capitalize on all types of talents and all types of characteristics. So, I think that if, if it’s your dream, then just follow it, you know, and, yeah, I’m excited to be a part of this community, and I think that, you know, people that who are motivated and who do meet the standards, they should just, should just go for it.
AG: You said something that I think is really important that I want to just expand on a little bit, that diversity makes a better force. Can you just give me a little more detail about what that means, especially from your perspective?
J: Yeah, absolutely. I think that every person brings something different to the table, and, you know, for their, the future female operators can, can really do something that maybe male operators couldn’t in the past. I think people who have certain language skills, and we have students who have gone to like MIT and Harvard, you know. There’s just a lot of talent, and I think that the diversity of talent is, is what makes the Navy in general so, so amazing, you know, and really capable, a capable force and especially the quality of person that comes to screen for SEAL and SWCC and the support people here and civilian staff here. You know, everybody just has something to really offer, and it’s just like a pretty, pretty standout team.
AG: Wow, that’s so inspirational. It feels like a very welcoming environment here.
J: For me, I really don’t have anything negative to say. It’s been I would say the highlight of my career, but it’s been my whole career, so.
AG: Would you say there’s any barriers for females?
J: No, I think this has been a big learning opportunity for, you know, the staff and community as whole. There hasn’t been any barriers. It’s just been an opportunity to improve training overall, and that’s what Naval Special Warfare Center and everybody else has done. It’s just a more dignified training environment, but any specific barriers related to opening to females I don’t think so at all. Like I said, it’s been integrated for some time now, and it’s really just common to see female sailors and female support staff all over the place.
AG: What do you think the best pathway is to be accepted by this community?
J: I would say job competence and work ethic. It doesn’t really matter where you come from, what your gender is, anything, as long as you can do your job well and perform a part of the team, you’re going to be accepted and welcomed.
AG: So, essentially the acceptance is based on your ability to make the team better and to be successful in the mission.
J: Exactly. Most people, you know, who, who want to be involved in Naval Special Warfare are mission focused and excited to be a part of the mission, so I think that that goes a long way but also knowing your job well.
(AG Transition) Our next guest also works alongside a SEAL team, but her role is quite different: she provides direct, in the field support to ensure that our SEAL and SWCC teams’ missions are successful in the short-term and long-term.
AG: Well, first, I want to thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited about this particular podcast because you’re doing such interesting things all over the world. (N: Thank you!) So, could you start by telling us about, well, first of all, introduce yourself, and tell us what you do and the organization that you work for.
N: Great, sounds good. Thank you for having me and for taking the time to hear my story. So, my name is Nicolette, and I am a reservist with a SEAL Team here in Coronado, and in my civilian job, I’m a field operations project manager for a nonprofit. We do a lot of humanitarian aid and economic development, non-lethal assistance to deployed US military and troops basically wherever they’re deployed and they need help or assistance to make their mission like more successful in the field.
AG: It seems, this is a side of Special Operations I don’t think a lot of people know about, (N: right!) and so is this more common that people think, this kind of, the other side of things when you’re in country?
N: It’s hard to say depending on where Special Operations are deployed. A lot of them are working in really small areas that are very vulnerable, and their goal is to kind of build the rapport with the local population and foster that relationship with their partner forces that they’re training. So, you know, they’re deployed all around the world in some of the worst parts and the worst areas, and while they’re there, their goal is to, you know, help train their partner force and help, you know, build their capacity so that those countries know how to operate effectively and, you know, connect with their populations if that makes sense.
AG: Yeah, interesting that you’re a woman working with Special Forces but then also needing to be an expert in the cultures that you’re adapting to. Does that, is that like a lot of mental work for you as you’re going into these situations?
N: I think yes, yes. When I went to Iraq to support, obviously, there’s different religions, and so the cultural sensitivity of working with many different religions with the all-female unit, I mean you just have to think through those cultural sensitivities, you know. But I think a lot of that goes back to our training, when I was in the Navy, active duty, and when, when we went through that course, they gave us a lot of training on just cultural sensitivities and, you know, what to prepare for, so I think that helped a lot with the transition.
AG: And then, so, have you all, when you were active duty, we’re you also working with Special Forces, or was that a different?
N: No, no, so I did four years just driving small boats, and I deployed once to Africa for about a year just working like harbor security, small 26-foot boats, and then I went into the Navy Reserve, which is where there was a screening for the cultural support unit to come in as female enablers to Naval Special Warfare.
AG: If we could talk a little bit about like the unique perspective you have, you’re a female who’s been in the Navy, who is attached to SEAL and SWCC teams in country all over the place… does it feel like you’re a part of the team? Does it feel like you’re an outsider? How does it feel?
N: I think that’s a really good question actually. No matter what position I’m in, whether it be, you know, in uniform or out of uniform, you always have to prove yourself. That’s one thing I always notice across the board, which for me, I thrive on that. I, that’s just the way I grew up, you know, my mom was a police officer, so I just, I’ve always pushed myself, and I’ve always been in a position where I had to prove myself, so I like that. So, it’s, I would say it’s a position for someone who’s, would be aware that that’s what they’re getting into. You always have to prove yourself.
AG: Is that because, I mean why do you think that is? Let’s just unpack that a little bit.
N: That could be taken any way somebody wants to perceive that, but I would say many of the perceptions is that, you know, women don’t belong in this community, or they don’t maybe have the capability to be up to the same level as some of the operators, and so that’s probably where a lot of insecurities rise until you prove it. So, like for instance, when we were deployed, you know, we would go out to support a SEAL team, and we would come on base, or, you know, we would learn the operation, and there still wouldn’t be that confidence with our capabilities until we actually went on mission, and we were able to do our job and then, you know, find out the information that they wanted to find out, and when we were able to do it in so much quicker of a time than they would, I mean sometimes, we would be able to solve the problem in ten minutes versus them working on it for three months just because of the fact that we were women, and we were trying to, well, we were there working alongside other women or women of other religious preferences who because of the cultural sensitivity, women could only talk to women, so we were able to engage a specific population. And because of that, we were able to get ahead, and that was seen as something valued.
AG: It seems like it comes down to trust.
N: Partially I would say and proving that you can do the job, but once you did that, there was, you know, instant rapport, instant value add.
AG: It seems to me like what you’re saying is maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female. You have to prove, you have to prove that you…
N: You just have to do the job. It doesn’t, yeah. I think that’s exactly what it comes down to. I think that’s the case for a lot of things and situations. It’s, you know, taking the gender aside, it’s just going out and doing your job and doing it good, and that’s what’s going to matter the most.
AG: Have you ever second-guessed yourself, or does your can-do attitude just get you through every one of these, you know? It seems like it would be a struggle over and over to feel like you have to prove yourself, you know, when you know you’re capable.
N: I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t, I don’t think I’ve ever second-guessed myself. I just, it’s a hard position mainly because I think being in the position that I was, women were never really offered this type of opportunity to work in this realm or this field, and so when we had that chance, we kind of like took the bull by the horns and like never looked back. We were like, “Are you kidding me?” We’re able to go to this school and this school and this school, which is only schools that were allotted for men to go to, and now that they were opening the door for women to go to it, it was like mind-blowing, and I can say that for all of the women that I worked with. We were just like, “Oh, my gosh, this is an opportunity that like has never happened before,” so I mean I didn’t think, I don’t think I would’ve looked at it like that. I would just say that we were confident, and we were like, you know, going to give every single ounce of our energy and time to this because this is something that no women before have been able to do. So, I don’t know. It was kind of an honor really.
AG: Yeah, it sounds incredible the work that you’re doing. What would you feel about the overall impact, like are there any, could you give an example of a story from one of the teams you’re attached to and what happened because of your, your joint work with the SEAL team?
N: So, I was partnered with another female who, she was the medic, and so we were kind of like a travel team. This was when I was in uniform. And we were attached to both Green Berets and the SEALs, and so we would basically get a call or a request to go and support a mission on a base somewhere in Afghanistan. So, we would get the call, we would fly in with our interpreter. We would fly in, we would sit down, we would learn all of their SOPs, their standard operating procedures, we would learn the mission, and then we would get on the birds, the helicopters, and we would fly out to that mission, and we would, we would execute the mission. So, one of the missions that we went on, it was an area that we needed to, the teams, the Special Forces we were working with, they needed to have a little bit more access into this area. It was known to have a large Taliban presence, and so basically we were going in to, you know, talk to the locals, talk to the women villagers, talk to anybody that kind of had any information on those people. So, we fly in. You know, we get on the ground. We’re going in patrol with the Special Forces in the stack. We come in to the village, and they separate women and children. Men obviously, men in this area, in this culture cannot talk to women because of the cultural sensitivities. That’s why they would separate the women. They would put them in a separate room. And we would go in, and, you know, we’d put our headscarves on, try to make the women feel a little bit more comfortable, and we would talk to them and just sometimes have tea, sometimes we’d have ten minutes to talk with them, so it was a little bit more aggressive, but basically we would try to find out as much as we could with a list of questions that they would give us to do it. And so, we would get that information, find out the issues, the problems, you know, where people are going at certain times, their mosques, etc., and then from there, we would leave, and then we would debrief, and we would say, “This is what we found.” And I think specifically one thing, one time and one place that we went to, it’s kind of hard to dance around this, you know, as I mentioned before, we laid out what we spoke to the ladies about, the women, and they said, “We’ve been working on this for three months, and you got that in ten minutes.” And so, you know, but while we were there, you know, they listed all these discrepancies of things that they didn’t have or that they needed, or they didn’t even have education. They were learning how to vote, and they didn’t know where to go or what places to go and vote.
AG: So, all the work that we’re doing on the military side could be for nothing if the population doesn’t understand what their rights are. (N: exactly) And that’s where you fill the gap.
N: Right, and so, so then that kind of gave us another reason to go back, and, you know, they didn’t have the education, or they didn’t know where these voting centers were, and this was like back in 2014 when the first time they allowed women to vote, and they didn’t even know that they were allowed to at that time. So, that gave us another reason to go back and sit down and talk with them and teach them, you know, “These are the centers. These are the polling sites. This is when you can go. These are the times you’re allowed and allotted to.” So, I mean it was like dual hatting. You’re impacting the US mission obviously because of what we were able to find out, and the second thing, it was helping the local people understand, “I can vote,” like it’s, “This is my government that I can contribute to,” and it was the first time women ever could do something like that.
AG: Wow, that is really cool. If you, I mean I want to do what you do, but like, how, if I want to do this, how do I get into it? I literally do cause it just sounds amazing, the kind of impact you’re making. How would someone go about that? How does someone, I mean you kind of had a unique path, but if someone is sort of starting from square one, where, what do they do?
N: I think when I first started, I had no idea like I would be working in this area. I mean I started driving a boat as an MA [Master-At-Arms]. You know, I joined with a college degree, and I was going to be an officer, and, you know, I grew up with my mom in law enforcement, and I just saw her, being tough and just getting out there and like serving. And so, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be operational. And so, I was driving boats, and then I was in a conventional unit, and then all of a sudden, there was an announcement to go and screen for Naval Special Warfare for this all-female unit that I just thought it sounded like something that was really challenging and could be really rewarding, and I just really liked working hard, and they just, this, it’s just a community that, I mean they were offering a lot of schools to women that haven’t been offered before, like I said before. So, I would urge women to think about, and men, you know, just to think about their career, and if they want a challenge, or if they want to do something that’s really impactful or important, you know, to try to push into those small pockets of communities that have special, special jobs, like you can go SEAL or SWCC or EOD or diver.
AG: Maybe you could speak to some of the various opportunities there are for women in this community. (N: yeah) I think that the common opinion is that there are very limited opportunities for women, but for females who might not understand that there are chances to work in Special Operations, not just being a SEAL or a SWCC.
N: Right, that there are other jobs that they can…
AG: Yeah, do you, could you, you know, maybe describe some of the things you’ve seen over the years?
N: Sure, I have some of my best friends are in the Navy, and I met them, you know, just from working in this community. So, there are so many jobs for women, and I think it’s, I think it’s definitely something that women should consider when they’re thinking of joining the military. You know, it’s, it’s so rewarding. You can, a woman can be part of, you know, the media, the public relations realm, they can be part of intelligence, they can learn, you know, IT if they’re good with computers. They can learn law enforcement capabilities, they can be dog handlers, they can be, they can work in investigative units, they can be corpsmen, you know, medical. There’s so many opportunities that are open for women, and now there’s opportunities for women to go into the Special Operations side and work to be an operator, like a SEAL, a boat driver. My best friend, she’s an EOD tech, so she’s one of ten women in the EOD community, and she just picked up for officer. She, you know, she, she’s the same, like she sees a challenge, and she goes for it, and she’s never been limited because she’s been a woman. If anything, it’s opened a lot of doors because I think women think that there’s like a lot of negative preconceived notions about them joining, or like maybe there’s just a lot of fear, or maybe not enough people are talking about what you can do in these jobs as a woman, so…
AG: That’s why we’re here.
N: Right, so I think it’s really important for women to know that there’s so many opportunities, and there’s so many resources and people that are happy about what they do and want to promote it, and I’m definitely one of them. Like I said, my other friend, she’s a diver. She’s one of the only female dive medical technicians in the Navy, so it’s, we need more women in these positions because, you know, we do great jobs, and we do really great work, and we’re just as capable to do these positions.
AG: And it seems like from your experience, you would say they, anyone male or female, that you’re going to be accepted if you’re, you know, working at your best and…
N: Right, you’re going to have pushback regardless. I think over time, it’s going to take time for women to be fully integrated the way, you know, this big great picture is, but I mean I think as long as you go in with the good mentality and just know that if you work hard enough, you know, you are going to prove yourself, and just have the confidence to know that there’s the support network to get you there. And yeah, I definitely think there’s going to be, no matter what you do and no matter what job you have, there’s going to be some type of, I don’t know, animosity, or, you know, there’s going to be challenges, but you can’t let that get in the way, and you just have to know that you just do your job, and you’ll be fine.
AG: Yeah, we’ve talked about mental toughness here before. What does that mean to you?
N: Mental toughness?
AG: Yeah, from your perspective.
N: I would say looking at, when you’re faced with an issue or a problem, I think the best way to attack it would be to start pieces at a time, like you can’t go into something and look at the overall picture because you’re going to be overwhelmed, and that’s kind of what defines your mental toughness, is how you attack something and how you can break it down and accomplish it, and if you can do it in pieces, by pieces and only focus on that one thing at a time, you know, eventually, you’ll be able to defeat it I suppose. So, I think that’s what kind of, I think it takes a little while for you to create that mental toughness. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you don’t just have it right away. You have to work on it just like anything. I mean when I first came into the program and started, I was overwhelmed, and it was so much going on, and, you know, I didn’t know how to channel it or overcome it, and I think by just taking pieces at a time and focusing on that at the moment and then, you know, accomplishing that and then moving forward and like only looking at it like that is kind of what helps you create that toughness.
AG: Yeah, that’s, I mean that’s a resounding theme here cause people coming in training for SEAL or SWCC, you know, they, they’re picturing being an operator, not necessarily passing the PST to get in, so it’s, it sounds like your mindset has, you know…
N: It’s shifted, definitely, and it was not like that before I started definitely. They teach you really good techniques in order to be successful in the community, and I think if you go into it with an open mind and just a positive mental attitude and knowing that, it’s going to completely suck, but you’re going to get through it, or, you know, just being open to challenges and [AG: Welcoming them?] welcoming them, yeah, thank you.
AG: Have you ever felt like you’ve been held back because you’re a female in this particular realm?
N: No. [AG: Awesome.] I don’t. That’s not the same for everybody. I personally, I don’t. I’ve never really, that’s, that’s hard. I grew up with my mom putting me in baseball with the boys, so I never really had a barrier myself. I never had that kind of preconceived, “I should be here on this women’s side or this alt,” with, you know. I was always integrated from a young age, so it never personally gave me those boundaries. And so, when I grew up, I just never, I went into everything thinking, “Oh, I can do this,” or when I wanted to join the military, nothing personally in my mind held me back either, so I think when I went forward into these programs, I never carried that with me. And then when I would go into these programs, I just stood up and said, “You know, is this possible for me to do?” and everybody kind of seemed to like open the doors because they saw the ambition maybe. I’m not sure. I never really felt that way at all.
AG: That’s great.
N: And, like I said, I felt like when I went into the unit, the all-female unit that I was part of, and we worked, we were the first women, the first group of women to really go into combat in these areas. I mean the job itself was very new, and even then, I mean there was definitely challenges, but I wouldn’t say that there was a lot of controversy in the fact that us not being allowed to do, if anything. It was opposite. It was like we were allowed to do it. I don’t know. Yeah, so, but that’s not the same for everybody. Everyone’s got a different story for that.
AG: You seem to love your job.
N: I do love my job. It’s, aside from what I did in uniform, this is the most rewarding thing. What we did in uniform to separate it, this was kind of my selfish drive, and it was a challenge for me to get into these positions and do the job. That was in my mind was kind of a selfish desire. What I’m doing…
AG: Selfish doesn’t seem like the right word.
N: Well, it was like, it was all centered around me, and what I’m doing now is so different and so impactful, like the fact that I can get on the ground in so many spots where these people have nothing, not even clean water, and we’re able to provide that to them, that impact is immeasurable, and it’s such a different kind of, a different kind of rewarding feeling. I, so, I just was able to go and support a project in Africa, and then before that, like I said, I was in Iraq, and the fact that I can bounce around to all these places and support all this work in so many different areas is like, I just, I love it.
AG: Yeah, it’s really nice to know from the outside looking in how much good is being done cause that’s not what gets promoted usually. I mean we, on the news, you just hear about the major things, and normally that involves fatalities or, you know, something negative, but, every day, you are doing things that are really positive
N: It is, and I think a lot of people don’t know that side of the military, like they don’t know a lot of people are military or deployed to say South America, or they don’t know that they’re deployed to certain parts of Africa or what they’re even doing. And I don’t know why we keep things so secret, so I think part of our job is to kind of inform the public of like the good work that these Special Operations teams are doing on the ground.
AG: Well, you’re my hero. (N: Oh gosh!) I think what you do is so cool and so important. I think that we are… come to the conclusion of our conversation even though I could talk to you all day, but we really appreciate you being here.
CLOSE: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.