Rear Admiral Janet R. Donovan is currently serving as Reserve Deputy Judge Advocate General.
Why did you decide to join/serve the Navy?
At that time, think back to the early 1980s, there was no JAG TV show or NCIS TV show. I had no concept that there were lawyers in the military or what role they might play. The Army came to Case Western Reserve Law School and they had a VHS tape that they popped into the player. They played a video that was "be all you can be."
I was engaged to be married to my husband, who was also in law school with me. I said, "This sounds really great." His dad had been in the Navy for 30 years. So on the Sunday call to his parents, he mentioned potentially joining the Army JAG Corps. His father was from an era that wasn't joint. You could hear him sputtering on the other end of the phone. He said we had to at least give the Navy a chance.
Next thing we knew, we were sitting with the senior detailer, who was then Tom Morrison, who was explaining all the great things we could do as Navy judge advocates. Couple years later, I joined the Navy - never looking back.
Who have your role models or mentors been that have influenced you or helped to guide you?
I've had so many mentors and role models. In my first tour, I was fortunate enough to work for one of the first senior female flag officers, Rear Adm. Roberta Hazard. She was amazing. I had the opportunity to be her staff judge advocate as a lieutenant for a short period of time (the commander in the billet was out on extended medical absence). She was very accessible to all officers in the region and was quite a role model for me.
As a lieutenant j.g.; I had a lieutenant who was my mentor. I think sometimes when we talk about mentors, everyone thinks of the admirals or the captains. It is important to realize that at any paygrade; you can be a mentor to people who are junior to you. This lieutenant probably didn't know she was a mentor to me. She talked to me in very concrete terms about how to improve my performance, about the way I was coming across to clients, the way I was coming across to other people in the command. She was extremely helpful to me. So my advice to all of our junior officers is to be the officer. You never know the impact you will have on someone's life by just being involved in the little things.
I had a third class petty officer who was in her first tour onboard the USS Acadia (AD-42). She wanted to be a legalman and I thought she would be great. I helped her put together a package. I didn't think about it much until 30 years later, when she was a lieutenant commander as a LDO [limited duty officer] Law officer. She asked me to be the guest speaker at her retirement. She said, "You changed my life." I had no idea what I had done changed her life. But for the past 30 years, she has looked at me as someone who has really had an influence on her life. We all have that potential. We need to be involved and be the officer - at every paygrade. You have no idea the impact you can make.
Another group that is powerfully influential, and certainly has been in my world, is the chief's mess. I think it is really important to emphasize to our chief's mess that they are not only mentoring the junior enlisted who work for them; they are also mentoring the junior officers. I try to emphasize the value a chief can bring to a junior officer. I'll give an example from my daughter's career. As an O-1, she was at a command function where they were deployed. She had a mid-grade enlisted who was next to her who looked down at his phone and was clearly shaken. She said, "Are you okay?" And he said, "Wow, I guess I'm going to a funeral." She said, "What happened?" He said "Well, there were eight of us that came in together and I'm the last one standing." She called me and told me that and I said "You find the senior enlisted NOW" because that person is not going to listen to her as an O-1. But the senior enlisted needs to know because that person is at risk. Understanding at the officer level, especially the junior officer level, when they need to seek out senior enlisted and engage with them. In particular as that relates to our field, where we (as legalmen and lawyers) see the sorts of things we see. People who cross the threshold into a legal office are, generally speaking, stressed. It can be positive stress - they just had a baby and want to do a new will, they just adopted, or they are buying a new house. Those can be positive stressors. There are also negative stressors. The times we see people in relationships that are falling apart, where they have financial problems that they are in over their head, or where they have had a fall from glory. Those are places where lawyers and legalmen are on the cutting edge and we have the chance to reach out and potentially advert disaster. This may be a bad moment in their life - but it is not the end of their life. The onus is on our people to recognize that. There is a need for the chief's community to act in these situations when they are working with their junior officers and junior enlisted. That mentoring can be so significant, not only for our own community, but for how far reaching it can be in the Navy.