NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- When opportunity knocks, you have two choices -- seize the chance or let it slip away.
Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, executive officer aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), is the type of person who throws the door open wide and asks, "What have you got for me now?"
During National Women's History Month, Bauernschmidt took time to share with Lincoln's crew the story of her journey to become the first female executive officer assigned to an aircraft carrier.
"I take it all back to something I learned very early on from a very important woman in my life," she said, referencing her mother as a pivotal part of her naval success. "Never pass up an opportunity."
In 1994, Bauernschmidt was a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, majoring in ocean engineering, when Congress repealed the combat exclusion law which prevented women from serving on combatant ships and in combat aircraft. She said her class was about 50 days away from selecting future assignments and this repeal changed the course of her military career.
"The Navy chose not to pass up an opportunity; they found a way to get the women from my class on destroyers, cruisers, and in combat aircraft," said Bauernschmidt. "I could have chosen several different career paths, and I chose naval aviation."
Since that decision, Bauernschmidt, a Milwaukee native, has added to her resume with tours which include being an instructor pilot and quality assurance officer with Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 41 and a senior military advisor to the Secretary of State's Office of Global Women's Issues, enhancing women's peace and security through worldwide initiatives.
"I've done a little bit of everything -- several tours on the west coast, east coast, and Japan; I worked for three different admirals and even survived two tours in Washington, D.C.," said Bauernschmidt with a laugh. "The biggest lesson I have learned during my career and all my tours is simple -- do your job."
Whether you're in the galley preparing meals or on the flight deck repairing aircraft, Bauernschmidt said if everyone does their job and does it to the best of their ability, then they will always do well.
It was just prior to her 20th Naval Academy reunion when Bauernschmidt learned she had been accepted to the aviation nuclear officer program, an opportunity both earned by her outstanding performance and a path offered only to aviators.
"I felt incredibly honored and privileged for receiving the opportunity, but also a little wary of Nuclear Power School," she explained. "I hadn't been in an academic environment for years, but I was ready for the challenges ahead."
Her selection to become Abraham Lincoln's executive officer was a notable first for women in the Navy, but while honored to have achieved the distinction, Bauernschmidt feels these opportunities are available to any willing to work hard and do their best.
"I would tell everyone that the Navy treats women fair and equally," she said. "Throughout my career, I always felt I was treated as a naval officer first, an aviator second. I've been very fortunate in my career, but I think many women in the Navy have."
Although she advocates the same goals for all of her Sailors, Bauernschmidt encourages women to take advantage of the many opportunities the Navy provides them and not worry about their gender as a factor in their performance or opportunity.
While she serves as inspiration and mentor to many, Bauernschmidt believes her mentors have been both senior and junior, and advises her Sailors to listen to everyone and take in what they have to say. You never know where the next great opportunity will come from.
"It's really about listening to your Sailors and getting their perspective," she added. "In each tour I've had, mentors -- both senior and junior -- have helped shaped me into the leader I am today."
For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.