She was in the center of a compartment adorned with chaotically flashing lights and switches. The panels controlled and monitored a myriad of systems pertinent to the launching and recovering of aircraft. It was the eye of the beast, a kind of blind picture of the flight deck residing many levels above. The circuits essentially acted as the nucleus of the ship’s aircraft launching systems, controlling aspects such as steam pressure, steam temperature, hydraulic pressure and water break mechanics.
A jet was stationed on a catapult anticipating launch when Bazile saw a panel light flicker. Her technical manual stated that she must suspend take-off upon observing any unexpected flash. She called the topside crew to cease launch actions. After some time, launch initiation restarted. A flicker appeared once more; she repeated her report. The process recommenced. She then received word there were two incoming aircraft low on fuel. The stalled jet must soon take flight to make room for the aircraft in need. A final flicker appeared. She felt an intense pressure to ignore the signal and proceed with take-off, so that the other jets could be received and avoid the possibility of a crash landing or ejection. Would she have the courage to make this critical decision?
Over the years, women have begun succeeding positions held by men across many military ranks and ratings – commanding platforms afloat and enterprises ashore. March is observed as Women’s History Month, and the preservation of this historic observance - the firsthand accounts of women overcoming adversity and examples of strong female leadership - seek to exterminate an archaic stigma that women are not as capable as men.
Congress officially designated March as Women’s History Month in 1987. Many female achievements are written in history and predate the holiday month’s conception. According to an online publication by the U.S. Naval Institute, Secretary of the Navy Joseph Daniels announced that the Navy would enlist women on March 17, 1917. On October 15, 1948, the first eight women on active duty took their oaths as Naval officers under the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act signed by then-Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan. In 1974, the Naval Recruit Officer Training Corps (NROTC) revised their program to offer women the opportunity to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a commission as either a Navy ensign or a Marine Corps second lieutenant. Shortly after in 1980, the first woman graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.
Bazile said she remembers an account told by retired Rear Adm. Alma Grocki during a Women’s History Month celebration. Grocki is a native of Honolulu, Hawaii. She reported to her first military training wearing a Hawaiian mu’umu’u, a traditional flowing dress which resembles a robe. She was thrust into a totally new, primarily male environment and experienced scrutiny regarding her attire – a scrutiny not likely experienced by her male counterparts. Grocki persevered through this adversity and was among the second wave of female officers who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981.
“What also stuck out to me in her speech was that she shared her experience of making sacrifices in order to expand her career,” said Bazile. “Being at RTC can be seen as somewhat of a sacrifice. I work long hours doing a difficult job. But the rewards pay out in dividends. I am learning to listen, really listen, to my recruits in order to find what motivates them. This will help me break barriers of communication so that I can enhance the working environment of future commands where I am assigned.”
To add to the list of payouts, Bazile was promoted to petty officer first class during her tour at RTC and nominated for Sailor of the Quarter.
Women’s History Month celebrations aid in carrying on the stories of the past. More recent accounts regarding the expanded opportunities given to women in the military keep the message alive.
Chief Aviation Ordnanceman LaChanda Parker, an RDC assigned to Officer Training Command (OTC) in Newport, Rhode Island, was a ballet and modern dancer before joining the Navy. She said the drastic career shift was driven by an eagerness to experience something new.
There have been many times when a challenge has seemed overbearing, said Parker. One of those times was during a tour when she found herself as the only female Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class assigned as ship’s company aboard an aircraft carrier. She surrounded herself with strong female first class petty officers and chief petty officers from other departments for support.
“I have always looked to senior females that I’ve worked with to guide and train me,” said Parker. “I have seen a lot of independent women, who are considered ‘unicorns’, because they are the only female in their division, department, or command.”
Parker noted she had only worked for one female Chief Aviation Ordnanceman and one female Master Chief Aviation Ordnanceman throughout her career thus far.
Though many ratings may still not be equally represented by females, opportunities to serve continue to broaden. Throughout both Bazile and Parker’s Naval careers, many groundbreaking changes have been marked in generating equality and opportunity for both women in the military as well as people from different races, genders and sexual orientations.
According to Naval History and Heritage Command, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which barred openly homosexual and LGBT+ community members from serving in the military, was repealed by the Senate in December 2010. That same year, the Navy rescinded its male-only aboard submarines policy. Additionally, a change went into effect that permitted black females to wear their hair naturally, in wider buns and in locks. Each of these administrative reforms bolstered inclusivity among those who were not previously eligible to serve.
As opportunities for women in the military become more commonplace, it is crucial that the current females in leadership represent, teach and demonstrate the strength of women.
“I hope to instill within the officer candidates whom I train the respect for all genders,” said Parker. “I had one student thank me for showing her ‘what a strong female leader looked like.’ I also want them to be accountable and responsible for their actions. It is mind-blowing that people still put limitations on what others can do based on gender. I want to show them that being a female is not a limitation and help change the way of thinking that some people have regarding the topic.”
Bazile said that one way she leads from the front is through knowledge. “No one can take that away from me,” said Bazile. “Regardless of someone’s attitudes towards me or their lack of trust or respect based on my gender, if I am relentless in my performance and confident in my skills, I will always succeed. I immerse myself in regulations and written guidance. In the face of any adversity, having that vault of knowledge allows me to make safe and appropriate decisions. This is an important message that I give to all of my recruits.”
Honoring females past and present during this year’s Women’s History Month is integral to keeping the press forward to positive change. The preservation of this historic observance, the firsthand accounts of women and examples of strong female leadership keep momentum focused on expanding equality, opportunity and freedom among all service members.
Bazile’s experience aboard USS George Washington reflects the real-life challenges of women in the Navy. It sings the song of adversity, challenge and the confidence to overcome - all of which lie at the heart of Women’s History Month.
“I made the decision to suspend flight for the final time,” said Bazile. “I may be a woman in a man’s market, and I may even be more closely criticized for my decisions, but in the end, I know I did the right thing. I remembered the protocol which I had learned in my training. I was confident and trusted myself in that knowledge. I am a woman; I am powerful, and I am capable. I will continue to honor the women of the Navy’s past by staying true to myself and by having the confidence to lead by my actions.”
MCC Byron C. Linder
NSTC Public Affairs