Women's History Month: Foreign Affairs Officer
Navy leaders and pioneers
Cmdr. Jennifer Jones FAO Community Manager, BUPERS 31, Millington, Tennessee
Q: Why did you decide to join/serve the Navy?
A: As early as grade school, my answer to the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was "a lieutenant in the Navy".
During my childhood summers, I listened to my grandfather's recollections of World War II serving on the USS Samuel Greene. Through his stories and artwork, it was clear to me that I wanted to be part of something bigger and more important than me. I wanted to contribute to our nation like he had. Most specifically, I wanted to be like the lieutenant that he spoke of, I wanted to be a smart, kind, and brave leader.
Q: Who have your role models or mentors been that have influenced you or helped to guide you?
A: I have had many role models and mentors who have positively influenced me and guided me.
I was fortunate to join the Navy in the late 1990s when every opportunity I was interested in was open to everyone regardless of gender or race. There were successful male and female Officers senior to me as well as enlisted professionals more experienced than me whom I could watch and attempt to embody their best attributes as leaders. As a naval flight officer, there was an Officer slightly senior to me in my first squadron who challenged me to be the best I could be. He led by example, was brilliant and treated everyone with respect regardless of rank or position. I saw the impact he personally made and wanted to do the same. In my mind, he was similar to the Lt. with whom my grandfather had served.
At the same squadron, I was fortunate to work with an amazing chiefs mess, several of whom molded my view of the importance of being a hardworking, smart, kind, driven and team-focused officer. Later, I went to an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Conference and for the first time I had an opportunity to speak with a successful female Navy captain one-on-one. The talk we had over the conference breakfast impacted me more than she will ever know. She inspired me to understand that for some the Navy career is enough, but for others, family was important as well. I knew that I wanted both. During my subsequent tours at U.S. Pacific Fleet Staff and U.S Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet Staff, I watched successful Naval professionals navigate the waters of international engagement while maintaining healthy family relationships at home. I still look to my mentors and those senior to me as I try to constantly improve my work life balance.
Q: Please tell us a story about someone, perhaps in your family or otherwise, who has influenced you or challenged you to become more than you ever thought you might.
A: As a child, my parents taught me that I could do anything I wanted if I worked at it hard enough.
My Dad and I started biking together when I was nine. By the time I was 17, I had broken a 24 hour Father-Daughter record with him and rode my bike round trip between Paris to Brest, France. I am grateful that they showed me how to look for great opportunities and work to make the best of them. In the years that have followed, with my parents still proud of my accomplishments in the Navy and as a mother of three girls, it has been my husband who has influenced me to strive to reach my potential. He quits his job every time I receive new orders so that we can keep our family together.
Although he doesn't pressure me directly, his sacrifice inspires me to work hard to ensure that those sacrifices for my Navy career are validated by my success. I also find that my children indirectly influence me to challenge myself. When I am at work, I do the best that I can so that when I return home I know made a difference in my day away from them. I want them to be proud of their Mom, and I want to be a good example for them.
Q: Please tell us which past assignments are the most memorable to you and why.
A: I am quite fortunate that I have had one memorable assignment after another in the Navy over the last twenty years.
As a junior officer, I enjoyed flying as part of the largest aircrews in the Navy and at the time I thought nothing could be better. But as a senior Lt. in the International Engagement Shop (N51) as a country desk officer at U.S. Pacific Fleet staff, I had the opportunity to plan and forge deeper engagements with other navies and I felt like I could personally make a difference as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO).
I enjoyed every minute of being on the team that planned and executed the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (22 countries meeting at the O-10 level) in Hawaii. My time at Naval Postgraduate School was enlightening for me as I learned to read and write with a critical eye. At the same time I gained professional and academic relationships with both U.S. and Foreign Officers which I continue to cultivate. But, it was returning to the fleet which I enjoyed even more. As a lieutenant commander at U.S Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. Sixth Fleet staff I had even more amazing opportunities which included joint exercises with UK, French and Russian navies; briefing admirals and leading meetings as the Deputy Europe Division Lead; going to the West Coast of Africa on board the French naval ship the FOUDRE for two weeks; training our African partners on board the USS Gunston Hall in Maritime Domain Awareness alongside an Italian lieutenant commander; and standing watch as the C6F battle watch captain.
Just when I thought the job couldn't get better, I was underway on a Spanish Navy F-100 Ship off the North Coast of Spain as the Navy Program Manager at the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Spain. I enjoyed my three years working Foreign Military Sales and Cooperation issues with the Spanish Navy; the opportunities that were available to me by working at the US Embassy were beyond my expectations.
My favorite event was sharing U.S. Thanksgiving traditions with my Spanish navy colleagues and their families. Even after leaving Spain, the adventures continue, and I honestly and frequently tell my boss that I love my job. The best part of my current assignment is talking with FAOs around the world and with Officers who wish to transition to the FAO Community, every day since July I have considered myself to be very fortunate to be a FAO in the position in Millington as the Community Manager.
Q: What does being a leader in the Navy mean to you?
A: I think that being a leader in the Navy is an awesome responsibility.
Leaders in the Navy are both trusted and empowered to guide the finest professionals.