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Women's History Month: Susan Orsini, Diane Boyle, Carrie Meza, Ms. E. Anne Sandel, Special Agent Mary Jones, and Ms. Joan Johnson

Navy leaders and pioneers

"From the Revolutionary War to current conflicts, women have played a crucial role in the security of our nation and the success of the U.S. Navy. Join us as we celebrate Women's History Month by profiling women leaders and pioneers across the Navy."

This is a photo graphic of Susan Orsini.

Ms. Susan Orsini, Civilian Mariner
Q: Why did you decide to join/serve the Navy?

A: Upon graduation from USMMA, I wanted to spread my wings a little bit. I was an Aviation Intelligence Officer, under the now defunct OSAM program. It was during this period I came to value the importance of contribution, and consider opportunities with this in mind, and not just the size of a paycheck.

Upon completing my USN service, July 1990, I was hired by Military Sealift Command. My first ship with MSC was the USNS Mercy and we were deploying to 5th fleet to support Desert Shield/Desert Storm. It was ironic, as at that time, in my Navy billet, as a woman, I would not have been deployed.

Q: Who have your role models or mentors been that have influenced you or helped to guide you?

A: Not to be corny, but my parents, Dr. Robert Sealby, my mother, Mrs. Martha Lee Schmidt, and my step-father Howard Schmidt. All have values the reinforce doing the right thing, not the easy thing. Don't be afraid to stand by your commitment. Be strong enough to ask for help, and persevere.

After them it would have been my high school Volleyball and Basketball coach, Lo Hunter. Her motto has always stuck with me- PERFECT practice makes perfect, substandard practice makes.... Capt. Charles Becker, a retired MSC master. I sailed with him frequently, and just when I thought I could coast a bit, he would throw me a curve ball in a different direction, from Webmaster, to standard of living conditions aboard ship. He made me a much better Master than I would have been without his influence. He certainly did not make things easy.

Q: Please tell us a story about someone, perhaps in your family or otherwise, who has influenced you or challenged you to become more than you ever thought you might.

A: My Mom. She was raised and went back to live in a small rural town in Missouri. After having lived elsewhere and moved back, she realized there was not a "911" system in place. It concerned her, as it is an area with an aging population. Long story short, she was told it would be too hard, too expensive, and it wasn't needed. She got a petition together. Proposed a 1-cent tax on gas, got the county onboard, and yes; 911 is now available in her area. It taught me there is a way to make changes. If someone says it can't be done without going to Congress, well, go to Congress. My Mom's amazing.
This is a photo collage of Susan Orsini.

Q: Please tell us which past assignments are the most memorable to you and why.

A: USNS Mercy 1990-1991 Starting my maritime career under circumstances in which Merchant Mariners have served their country in every conflict, made me proud of my choice, and appreciative of making a tangible contribution.

My time aboard the USNS Kilauea. The "Killer" was the least comfortable, hardest working ship I have been on. The bonds between crewmembers were as tight as I have ever had, forged strong enough that they still endure.

USNS Safeguard, during CARAT 2011. During this assignment I was able to work with a spectrum of Naval personnel from other countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines. There were a lot of "meet and greets" it gave me a true appreciation of what people might see when they look at me.

I have often said "My license doesn't say 'female' Master on it", and it doesn't. This is a comment I would generally make regarding that success is dependent on merit, and not gender. However, in the ports I mentioned before, it became apparent to me, that without any great effort it was obvious that: I was a Captain, that I was a woman, and that I was an American. Realizing this, it crystallized something another mentor taught me, the woman who taught me to ride horses, Jean Gravell,... wherever you go, you reflect where you come from- Make it a good reflection.

I realized that mattered to me. I wanted to leave a good impression on people I met regarding American women in leadership positions.

Q: What does being a leader in the Navy mean to you?

A: Lead by example. It means taking responsibility, and taking care of my people. Making a decision and standing by it. Believing in myself, my skills and competence, building my team, delegating and growing people, giving them just a bit more than THEY think they are ready for, and backing them up. Reinforcing the pride the crew should feel about the work they do, the contribution they make, it is truly important. Clean dishes are just as important as engine performance, and navigation.
Being able to motivate people to do things they don't want to do, that I wish I didn't have to have them do, but it has to be done. It means standing up for what is right big or small; If there is a safety issue, distribution of watches, disciplinary problem, bullying, etc. I accept that it is up to me to take care of that situation, and ask for help, to get it as right as I can. To show people that doing the right thing is how we do things. Transparency I guess...but losing that word, just being open, honest, decisive. My crew needs to have confidence in me, trust me, have faith in me, that my decisions are sound.

I don't know what words describe, or what it really means; being a leader. It's just something you do, and, thankfully, something you can get better at... Being in a leadership position, doesn't make a person a leader; I have learned that is true. I try to be the best leader I can be. I'm still working on it.