NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- During Women's History Month, many Sailors are reflecting on their service; for one Sailor aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), the Navy provided an opportunity for maturity, education and professional success.
Like some Sailors, Senior Chief Aviation Electrician's Mate (AW/SW) Charlene Williams joined the Navy to get money for college and see the world.
Williams, now the leading chief petty officer (LCPO) for the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Administrative Department, grew up in Tampa, Fla., and decided she wanted to do something different after high school. During her senior year in 1986, she begged her parents to sign paperwork allowing her to join the service, and eventually her wish was granted.
"I was from an area where there weren't very many good job opportunities at the time," said Williams. "But the only way my father would sign was if I promised to start going to school right away while I was in, so I gave him my word. I graduated on a Friday, and I was literally on my way to boot camp that next Monday. To this day, it was the smartest move I ever made."
The young, undesignated airman recruit kept her promise. Shortly after reporting to her first duty station with the VC-5 Checkertails in the Philippines, Williams enrolled in college courses and took advantage of the tuition assistance program.
She began to spend nearly every waking moment off duty to study for exams and complete homework assignments, while simultaneously striking into the AE rating and advancing to petty officer third class. Williams moved on to serve with VF-126 and then spent 18 months in Diego Garcia where she graduated with an associate degree in liberal arts.
But, like many junior Sailors, Williams experienced her share of trials and tribulations.
"I used to be the EMI (extra military instruction) queen, and back in those days, I didn't feel that some of my male counterparts saw me as an equal because I was female," said Williams. "But there comes a point when you have to be mature about things and start being positive. I focused on school and prayer and learned more about the rules and regulations of the Navy."
Time passed, and Williams continued on her journey. Around the time she advanced to petty officer second class, she married and gave birth to a son. Still, while her husband was deployed, she continued to work toward earning her bachelor's degree in psychology at commands in Japan and in Norfolk, Va. Just 18 months later, she earned a master's degree in organizational counseling.
"I have an insatiable appetite for education, and the Navy was helping me," she said.
Williams decided to start focusing more on her professional goals and begged her detailer to assign her to a ship for the first time. After waiting almost a year for a female billet to open up, she made her way to USS Nassau (LHA 4) as a member of the first group of female Sailors assigned to the ship.
"I'd never been on a ship, so I didn't even know how to cross the quarterdeck," said Williams. "I literally stood to the side so I could watch how the other Sailors were doing it. I was in a new world."
A turning point in her career, Williams' tour aboard Nassau provided her with the motivation she needed to excel professionally as she had in the scholastic world.
"I used to work for a senior chief who told me that I would never really be successful in the Navy, and those words were like a light bulb coming on," Williams said. "Here I was - a first class - with no warfare pins or anything. I never wanted to be in a position that would put a negative light on me; I would rather have people want to emulate me in a positive manner."
Within seven months on board, Williams earned dual warfare qualifications, was selected as sailor of the year and advanced to chief petty officer. She participated in outreach programs and volunteer services and even created a mentorship program for the command.
After her time on the Nassau was up, Williams moved on to Bahrain to assess the commands' drug and alcohol programs and improve training and assessment. She became very involved in the chiefs' mess and started working on her doctorate and was subsequently picked up for the Senior Enlisted Academy program last year, just before reporting on board the "Gold Eagle" as a senior chief petty officer.
"From the minute she stepped into the Carl Vinson Admin department, she made a positive impact as a leader," said Yeoman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Kimberly Husser. "She actually takes time to speak with her Sailors and genuinely tries to motivate and encourage them. We already trust and confide in her, and that says a lot."
Now, 22 years later, Williams is considered by some as an outstanding picture of success. She has an extensive educational background and has climbed to the highest enlisted ranks. She has traveled the world with the Navy, taken advantage of its opportunities and made a positive role model of herself that junior and senior Sailors alike can appreciate.
"The military is not for everyone, but it is for me," said Williams. "It has given me adventures, a wealth of knowledge and experiences I could never get anywhere else. There are so many individuals that would love to have the same opportunities we have but can't, for whatever reason, so you just have to stay positive and realize that it truly is a blessing to be here."
For more news from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn70/.