By Lt. Laura K. Stegherr, Diversity Directorate Public Affairs
PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- A panel of warfare and enterprise leaders shared their perspectives on diversity with members of the National Naval Officers Association (NNOA) and the Association of Naval Service Officers (ANSO) during the organizations' joint professional development and training conference here July 27.
The group, composed of senior leadership from the surface, submarine, aviation, expeditionary, medical and cyber warfare communities, spoke to the nearly 300 Navy attendees on their personal experiences and challenges with implementing diversity within their commands.
Rear Adm. Michelle Howard, former commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 2, represented the surface warfare community on the panel. Howard said having a diverse command staff while at Combined Task Force 151 aided in the success of one of the most high-profile Navy operations in recent history - the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips of the U.S.-flagged merchant vessel Maersk Alabama.
"My chief of staff happened to be male at the time. My deputy, who was a Marine, happened to be male. My N2 officer was a female. My N3 was African American. My deputy N3 was a Reservist who was activated, who was Chinese American," said Howard.
"One of the key people in the process was a Somali interpreter who was a US citizen. Another key person in the process was a civilian who was a retired FBI agent who was doing a tour with the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit," said Howard. "So when you talk about the surface community, the success of the Maersk Alabama was due to the officers and enlisted in those planning cells - and the civilians and Reservists."
"My staff looked a lot like this room," Howard added. "It reflected who we are in this country. So the sons and daughters of this nation did really well."
The commanders also talked about outreach and mentoring programs that they have implemented within their enterprises to promote diversity and inclusion.
Rear Adm. Richard O'Hanlon, commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic, explained how naval aviators have a system in place to facilitate outreach to youth in new areas across the nation.
"Over the last few years we have really emphasized the outreach piece," said O'Hanlon. "We have a website available for aircrew to select their cross country destinations that would involve a stop by a school or an area that we want to market the Navy in, so that we can draw potential recruits in. It's been very successful. At least fifty times this year, we have visited places with aircraft and aircrew to talk about naval aviation."
Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., surgeon general of the Navy and chief of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, emphasized that this outreach should also begin before students even reach high school.
"The STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] programs we need to support are the ones that begin in elementary school and that begin in those areas that are considered to be underachieving areas," said Robinson.
"What we have there is a wealth of intellectual talent that is rough and raw and ready to be harvested and refined," said Robinson. "And I'm talking about elementary school...I'm talking about first grade, and I'm talking about second grade, because we need to go and make sure that those younger minds have the opportunity to advance and to be cultivated into the types of leaders that this country must have."
Rear Adm. Thomas Meek, commander of Navy Cyber Forces, emphasized that outreach must also be undertaken by even the highest levels of Navy leadership.
"I'm here today because I felt it was important to talk about [diversity] and to be a personal example. And I'm going to encourage those who work under me and within my purview, within my domain, to do the same," said Meek. "If we're going to get this right in the Navy, we've got to confront it, we've got to understand it, and then we've got to take action on it. And that is 100 percent of our domain workforce that I'm talking to there."
"I think that I can continue to work this after I leave the Navy by talking about the Navy to my local community when I move back to Michigan, which is where I intend to go," continued Meek. "I can continue to go to high schools and to talk about their Navy and what the Navy is doing for them."
The panelists agreed that even with the many successes of diversity within the Navy, each of their commands is facing unique challenges.
"Diversity has been a big challenge for us," said Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, commander of U.S. Submarine Force. "In the enlisted community we are in reasonably good shape with our diversity efforts. But in the officer community that is not the case. And so the efforts of my diversity programs have mostly focused on accessions of diverse officers."
"We're actually pretty healthy in the enlisted cohort, it's the gender in the enlisted cohort," said Howard. "The issue becomes moving women into the non-traditional ratings - hull technician vice yeoman gets to be the challenge."
The panelists also encouraged the conference attendees to lead the charge in diversity outreach.
"Our nation is such a diverse and glorious institution, and country," said Robinson. "And that's why it's important for ANSO and NNOA to come together, and that's why it's important to remember that it's not about how I as a three star perpetuate this, it's about how you will perpetuate this. You know, I'm fifty-nine, and I'm done, but there are people here who are just beginning. You've seen what I have done and you've heard what I have said. What are you talking about?"
NNOA and ANSO are sea service affinity groups dedicated to supporting the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps in the recruitment, retention and professional development of minority officers. The organizations' inaugural joint conference runs until July 30.