By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service
July 26, 2007 - Growing up in Mobile, Ala., Judith L. Lemley never imagined being in the military. But after graduating with a bachelor's degree in secondary education, Lemley was inspired to follow in the footsteps of her father and enlisted in the Navy. "My father was proud of his time in the military, and he spoke highly of it," Lemley, now a Navy lieutenant, said.
Lemley enlisted 15 years ago and received her officer commission after completing the Limited Duty Officer Program.
Lemley has deployed four times on ships in the Persian Gulf and recently returned from a seven-month tour to Afghanistan, where she helped train Afghan National Army soldiers to use and maintain field radios.
The Afghan soldiers' training also incorporated cryptography to secure communications. It also established automatic link systems so soldiers could communicate without having to change wavelengths throughout the day.
After taking initiative and looking over program cost projections, Lemley was able to carve out $240 million, saving 41 percent over initial projections, when she realized things were being purchased haphazardly.
"I came in and said, 'Nope, I'm going to take this over," Lemley said. "And I carved it out, and I said, 'You know what? This is what we are going to do. We are not going to buy all this excess; we are going to trim the fat and make it happen.' And that's what we did; we stayed focused. What you save in one area someone can always use in another."
Lemley is one of eight servicemembers who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa selected to share their individual stories to Americans across the country through the Defense Department's "Why We Serve" public outreach program.
The "Why We Serve" program was initially the idea of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The program began in fall of 2006. Groups that comprise two military servicemembers from each branch are selected to participate in the program for about 90 days.
"My experience will only help other people grow and stir interest to support the troops, and that's what it's about," Lemley said.
Holding a leadership position in the military, where women only make up a small percentage, can be a challenge. But training Afghan soldiers in a country where women and men are not treated equally can be intimidating, she said.
"The part I find fulfilling is that I did have to meet with (Afghan National Army) generals and colonels on an almost daily basis, and I was the one who kept the key to the kingdom because I fielded all communication equipment," Lemley said. "They found out early on that they couldn't yell at me and order me around. But as a woman, I learned all you have to do is stand your ground and be logical. Women do have value and can make sound decisions."
Lemley said she wants Americans to know that job satisfaction and challenging work are key components of success. "Job satisfaction is the most critical thing," she said. "Respect yourself, and others will respect you."
Lemley also said she wants people to understand the importance of volunteerism and of supporting the troops.
"I want Americans to know that the servicemembers are trying to do as we've been directed, and we really need their support," Lemley said. "Whether they agree with the war or not, we are Americans trying to protect their safety and security in the United States, and we would greatly appreciate their support."