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Women's History Month: Rear Admiral Janet Donovan and Captain Stacy Pedrozo

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 graphic of Rear Admiral Donovan.

Rear Admiral Janet R. Donovan is currently serving as Reserve Deputy Judge Advocate General.

Q: Why did you decide to join/serve the Navy?

A: 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.

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

A: 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.
This is a photo collage of Rear Admiral Donovan.

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: I'd have to say my mother was a great influence. She grew up in a single parent household - her father died when she was five. Her mother never remarried. She had, and still has, no idea about gender barriers or general roles. The way we grew up - there weren't defined gender roles. She wouldn't consider herself to be a feminist - it's not that she was strident - it's that she didn't see barriers. And I didn't grow up seeing barriers.

My three daughters also had a huge influence on me. As I was considering the path I might take - to stay in the Navy, to get out of the Navy - I wanted them to look up and see that women have lots of options. I was considering if I wanted to put in a package before the selection board that would consider the next [reserve JAG] flag officer.

There is a razor-thin edge where everyone is so exceptionally well qualified. I gave considerable thought as to whether I wanted to put together a package to increase my chances. One of the things that clearly came to mind was the meaning for my daughters and the next generation. That shaped my decision. My oldest daughter is now an intelligence officer in the Air Force. I think my career shaped her decision. She did come home after ROTC summer camp and said, "I had no idea it was such a big deal to be a captain!"

One of the other things that was influential for me was the Women Officer Professional Network. It's interesting because I think, even today, women's affinity groups can be controversial. For me, it was a great opportunity. I was on the board of officers as a lieutenant j.g. in Great Lakes. The organization provided me the opportunity to network with other women who could address the kinds of issues I had as a female officer. Did I want to have a child while on active duty, and if so, when? How could I get an opportunity to go to sea when the sea duty opportunities at that time were really limited destroyer tender and submarine tenders? For me to have a chance to network about those things with other women was great. Even today, there is a perception that if we want to be seen as officers and not as female officers, we need to shy away from affinity groups. I've never taken that position. As a flag officer, I've tried to provide networking opportunities for women so they can see senior leadership, find out our challenges, and talk with us about their challenges in a way that is meaningful for their careers.

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

A: Certainly my first tour in the Navy at Navy Legal Service Office in Great Lakes. I think that everyone's first tour in the Navy is memorable. From my perspective, this is why it is so important that commanding officers understand and appreciate the impact they have on junior people who are showing up for their first tour. What we [the Navy] have implemented now as a command screening program and command training pipeline is impactful as commanding officers realize how meaningful their leadership style can be for the junior officers and junior enlisted who are in that first tour.

Sea duty was, of course, phenomenal. I was on USS Acadia (AD-42), a destroyer tender. I had the opportunity to serve for a phenomenal commanding officer who had multiple commands at sea - Capt. Gerry Grunwald. That was one of the first deployments with women; both a fully integrated crew of officers and enlisted. We were the second ship with women to go into the Persian Gulf. It was memorable in so many ways as we worked through the challenges of integrating women at sea. Some things we anticipated, but there are always unanticipated challenges. Certainly one of the unanticipated challenges was the way that on-deployment, mixed-gender senior enlisted and junior enlisted would interact. The commanding officer saw that there were some challenges. There was no enlisted to enlisted fraternization prohibition at the time. As I discussed those issues with him as his legal advisor, I laid out for him that he had the authority to create a lawful order onboard the ship that would prohibit enlisted to enlisted fraternization. It would create a bright line between E-7 and above and E-6 and below in the chain of command. We had people sign page 13s to acknowledge what the restrictions were and, in particular, no senior enlisted could be behind closed doors with junior enlisted. To the extent that there were violations, the CO convened summary courts martial. Some of the chiefs went to court martial and some lost their anchors. He was very clear that the working relationship needed to be one hundred percent professional. On an integrated ship, there can be no perception of favoritism that might result from a dating relationship or personal relationship with a senior person who was in a position to rank them for their evaluations, to set the duty roster, and to do all kinds of other things. That relationship needed to be a professional one. That really was, I believe, the beginning of the enlisted to enlisted fraternization rule that we have today and it has certainly impacted Navy culture. I'm proud to have been a part of that as a junior officer.

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

A: When I think about leadership and Navy, I think people join the military and stay in the military for three different reasons.

One is to be part of a cause that is bigger than themselves and we certainly do that in the United States Navy.

The second is because we provide them meaningful work and particularly that is true of our legalmen and our lawyers. They are smart, driven, independent thinkers who are looking for a challenge. For them to want to stay, we need them to have cutting-edge, challenging legal issues. We certainly have these issues in the military. So they stay for meaningful work.

The third reason that they stay is because of the comradery of the military. We become people's families. That comradery creates a unique military experience for us, especially when we are deployed but also in our unit ashore.

As a leader, I need to address all those issues. If people are coming in because they want a cause bigger than themselves, it is my job as a leader to translate that cause to their levels so they can see the bigger picture and see how they play a role.
I need to ensure that they have meaningful work to do. That the kinds of projects that they are working on, they will be able to see the value in it and the value in the bigger picture of the Navy.

I need to create opportunities to build comradery within their commands. If I can do that, I feel like I'm being a good leader.