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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Eighty years after her death, Canadian immigrant and U.S. Navy nurse Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee continues to inspire the women involved with outfitting a new Navy destroyer named for her.
Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Jacksonville provides integrated logistics services for new ship construction in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) was built by Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The Navy accepted delivery of PCU Higbee on Nov. 30. To prepare for that milestone, military and civilian logisticians assigned to the FLC generated over 17,700 initial requisitions valued at more than $16.9 million. They outfitted the ship with 97.13% of its allowed material list to ensure that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer is ready for sea. This exceeds the supply readiness objective established by NAVSUP and Naval Sea Systems Command.
But it wasn’t just business as usual with this particular ship for some of the NAVSUP FLC Jacksonville women who participated in its preparation. They feel part of the Higbee legacy.
Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee emigrated from Canada to the United States and became a pioneer in Navy nursing, receiving the Navy Cross for her distinguished service combating the Spanish flu during World War I. She was the first women to have a U.S. Navy warship named for her, and DDG 123 is the second destroyer to bear her name.
Nurses were the first women to serve in the U.S. Navy, beginning with the official establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps in May 1908. Higbee was one of the original 20 Navy nurses known as the Sacred Twenty. She served as the second superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps during World War I and is credited with shaping the young organization and expanding it from 160 to 1,300 nurses.
Higbee’s story resonated with Yineiry “Genie” Ducre, who serves as the DDG Platform Manager for the FLC in Pascagoula. Like Higbee, Ducre is an immigrant and found a new home in the U.S. Navy. As a female Navy pioneer, Higbee opened the door for women like Ducre to have roles in the Navy.
“For me personally, it’s an honor. Like her, I was also an immigrant. My family came from the Dominican Republic, and I joined the U.S. Navy,” Ducre said.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle, I started my Navy career at 17 years old serving aboard the destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) in the Deck Division as a striker for storekeeper. I arrived aboard the ship two days before the Navy birthday and cut the cake,” she said “Now, I’m the DDG platform manager.”
Culinary Specialist Senior Chief Lakesia Jackson leads the Fleet Support Team and assists prospective supply officers as they establish the Supply Department aboard pre-commissioning unit ships.
“I’ve served on active duty as a culinary specialist in the U.S. Navy for 23 years, and it’s been an honor to work on the future USS Higbee,” Jackson said. “It’s amazing, my daughter asks me when I go home, ‘What did you do today?’ And it excites me to see her face light up when I explain to her what I do for the Navy to deliver ships to the fleet.”
Analila “Lilli” Tosado is a Navy civilian assigned to the Outfitting Branch. In addition to being an immigrant and Navy veteran, Tosado has a daughter who works in medicine.
“My family migrated from Mexico, and I’m the first female in my family to join the military. I’m a retired U.S. Navy storekeeper,” Tosado said. “My 22-year-old daughter works as a multi-skilled technician in the Medical Telemetry Department at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. It’s a great honor, the fact that she (Higbee) is a female. For her to be one of the first Navy nurses sets a great example for others to follow.”
The connections continue. Rita F. Johnson-Amaker is a retired U.S. Army master sergeant and works as a purchase card holder in the Technical Data Branch in Pascagoula. She is responsible for procuring general-use consumable material for ships. Her aunt currently serves at a U.S. Air Force nurse.
“I feel honored to support a ship named after a female who served during WWI as a Navy nurse. Women have always found ways to serve in the military in one form of another,” Johnson-Amaker said. “Nursing was one of the first, and it’s a job that’s still in great demand today as it was back then.”
Vanessa Davis is a retired Navy storekeeper who has worked in the Pascagoula Outfitting Branch, though she is currently the LPD platform manager.
“For me, it's full circle from serving on a ship to working on a ship that's named for a female. As a child, I wanted to join the Navy. Now, I feel proud to be associated with the ship, especially after learning about her,” said Davis, who has a sister and niece who are medical technicians. “She's what I would’ve liked to learn about while I was serving on active duty in the Navy.”
Iris Linder temporarily filled in as acting DDG platform manager while Higbee was under construction. An Air Force veteran, she has family ties to Navy nursing.
“I retired from the U.S. Air Force with 27 years of honorable service, and have over 30 years of supply experience. It’s an honor to work on this ship and know the trailblazing history behind its namesake,” Linder said. “I’m also the only female in my family to join the military. My grandmother was a civilian nurse at the Navy base in Mobile and Pensacola, and my daughter recently followed in my footsteps and joined the U.S. Army.”
A century ago, Higbee retired from the Navy on Nov. 30, 1922. She died in 1941 in Winter Park, Florida, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
This spring, PCU Higbee is scheduled to be commissioned into service at a ceremony in Key West, Florida.
Read more about Lenah Higbee at the Naval History and Heritage Command: https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/people/namesakes/lenah-higbee.html
NAVSUP FLC Jacksonville is one of eight Fleet Logistics Centers under Naval Supply Systems Command. Headquartered in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, NAVSUP employs a diverse, worldwide workforce of more than 22,500 military and civilian personnel.
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