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Naval Special Warfare commemorates Women’s History Month, honors women’s contributions to maritime special operations

29 March 2023

From Mass Communication Specialist First Class Destiny Cheek

CORONADO, Calif. - The Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community takes great pride in honoring its history and heritage, honoring the many servicemembers who have set the standard for today’s maritime special operations community. Today’s force stands upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us. March, as Women’s History Month, is the perfect time to celebrate the rich history of the women within our ranks who have contributed to NSW’s operational successes.

For Cmdr. Deanna Markey, an information professional officer at Naval Special Warfare Command, her interest in service began after the tragic events of Sept. 11 when she enlisted as an intelligence specialist. Following in the footsteps of her veteran grandfather and uncle, she knew the Navy was the right choice for her. After her first enlisted assignment, she knew she was contributing to the mission by doing her job well but felt constraints at as an enlisted Sailor which led to her seeking a commission.

“Becoming an officer was always the plan, because I knew I wanted to make the largest contribution I felt I could and go as far as possible,” said Markey.

Today, Markey serves on NSWC’s staff within the communications department, ensuring seamless information flow to special operations teams who are deployed forward in support of integrated deterrence.

“Information is everything to the commanders,” said Markey. “The only way to make effective decisions is to understand the battlefield from both the enemy and your allies. Information is how that is possible.”

As a member of the information warfare community, which includes communications, networks, intelligence, oceanography, meteorology, cryptology, electronic warfare, cyberspace operations, and space experts, Markey emphasized how critical the information environment is to maintain and the challenges operators face in the information world.

“We take for granted just how much information flows on a normal day,” said Markey. “The biggest challenge we face is how to operate with the least amount of information due to denied communications.”

Markey says she’s appreciative of the opportunity to serve within the NSW community and the relationships she has built during her tour.

“Two mentors of mine came to work at NSW and recommended me to the [communications] department, and I will forever be grateful to them,” said Markey. “I love what I do, and I wish everyone could say that about their career.”

NSW is committed to increasing the representation of women in the force so the community can be reflective of the nation it serves. One way NSWC works to achieve this equity is by employing a force integration officer (FIO). Lt. Konnor Cutrer, the current FIO, is a surface warfare officer with an operational background serving aboard ships and as an amphibious warfare tactics instructor, a difficult qualification to achieve. As the NSWC FIO, Cutrer ensures the equitable integration of women into NSW by leading the Women in Special Operations instructor program. She provides support for instructors at NSW Assessment Command, NSW Basic Training Command, and female candidates for SEAL and SWCC programs.

“When I read the position description for NSW FIO, I was immediately excited for the challenges I would face while helping to pave the way for more women to join and thrive in the NSW community,” said Cutrer.

Women in special operations have contributed honorably to the force’s mission since it’s inception.

During World War II, Virginia Hall served in the Office of Strategic Services and supported the resistance in occupied France, which prompted the Gestapo to place a bounty on her. Later, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for her heroism and is now honored at the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Commando Hall of Honor.

Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent paved the way for greater inclusion of women in Special Operations Forces, as one of the first women to pass the NSW Direct Support Course. Kent mastered signals and human intelligence throughout combat deployments and persuaded government and tribal leaders, along with merchants and soldiers, to give her information. Her intelligence work eventually led to the death and capture of some of America’s most wanted foreign adversaries. Unfortunately, Kent was killed in action in Syria in 2019.

“Today, women serve proudly across all our SOF formations in countless leadership roles and continue to forge new paths while serving in our most elite organizations,” said Gen. Bryan P. Fenton, commander, USSOCOM in a March letter to the special operations force. “We are more effective and more lethal because of their service.”

Celebrating the contributions of women within the NSW community are not limited to one month a year. NSW continues to celebrate recent milestones of women in the community. In July 2021, NSWC celebrated the first woman to graduate an NSW training pipeline when a woman Special Warfare Combat Craft-crewman completed Crewman Qualification Training with Class 115. In 2022, we celebrated Cmdr. Blythe Blakistone, who became the first woman to serve as a commanding officer of an NSW unit when she took command of Tactical Communications Command 1.

Since 1987, Americans have celebrated Women’s History Month, an annual heritage month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. NSW joins the U.S. Navy and special operations community in celebrating the service, achievements and contributions women have given to make the military what it is today.

NSW is the nation's elite maritime special operations force, uniquely positioned to extend the Fleet's reach and gain and maintain access for the Joint Force in competition and conflict.

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