PORTSMOUTH, Va (NNS) -- Right now Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Operations Officer Captain Dianna Wolfson is getting a lot of attention as the first woman ever selected to command a public naval shipyard. For those fortunate enough to know her, Wolfson’s gender is the least remarkable thing about her.
Known for an unyielding dedication to the Navy and constant care for the people who populate it, Wolfson is now preparing to become Commanding Officer (CO) of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington.
“Throughout my time so far in the Navy, I really haven’t thought about my gender,” said Wolfson. “That’s never really been something that’s been part of my daily vocabulary. In my upbringing as an Engineering Duty Officer, becoming CO has been the pinnacle of where I wanted to be. But it wasn’t that I wanted to be the first female shipyard commander. I just wanted to be a shipyard commander. That’s what’s so exciting to me.”
Wolfson was in the Navy’s first groups of women surface nuclear officers in the mid-1990s. As women began serving on combatants only two years prior to her graduation from the Merchant Marine Academy in 1996, Wolfson is quick to credit her initial career opportunities to the diversifying climate. But if chance got her on the ship, it’s capability that’s proven her hand deserves to be on its wheel.
"There is never a question whether Captain Wolfson is ready to support or to take charge,” said NNSY Production Resources Officer Captain Jip Mosman. “Her dedication to mission and people is second to none. She wants her team to be successful and is always ready to do what it takes to get them there."
As much increasing responsibility has been placed on her shoulders during her 20-plus years in service, Wolfson possesses an infectious enthusiasm and benefits from a remarkable clarity of purpose. “I always want to make a difference,” she said. “I want to make a difference for our country and for our Navy, and for the people of the United States of America. I’ve always aspired in every job that I’ve had to make a difference, whether that was getting an asset back out to the Fleet or ensuring we bring the best value to the government.”
Wolfson’s past two decades of assignments reads like a preparatory tour for becoming CO—this feels less like the next logical step in her service and more like the fulfillment of a career destiny. She served aboard two aircraft carriers, first USS George Washington (CVN 73) from 1998 to 2001, and later USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) from 2007 to 2009. While she’s a self-proclaimed “carrier girl,” she’s one who’s come to possess an unusually deep knowledge of submarines beginning with stints as assistant project superintendent, docking officer and nuclear zone manager at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine from 2004 to 2007.
She has a distinct memory of walking through the snow from Portsmouth's parking garage at 4:45 one morning, facing the bitter New England cold and thinking, 'So this is what it's like to love your job. I'm so happy I chose to become an EDO.'
It was there that Wolfson also got her best career advice—advice she still keeps posted within line of sight at her desk. “’If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you,’” Wolfson said. “It’s so true and how I try to live my life. The people are what drive me.”
That mantra would come in handy for Wolfson’s subsequent role as Project Superintendent for the Engineered Overhaul (EOH) of USS Newport News (SSN 750) at NNSY beginning in 2011. That successful and on-budget overhaul was made possible courtesy of effective working relationships throughout the project team. Wolfson pointed out communication was extremely important due to the limited amount of space to get the work done onboard. To achieve milestone dates, critical work was clearly defined and detailed shift-by-shift. Members of the entire project team knew what needed to get accomplished and why, and could be confident knowing when obstacles occurred, they could call for help and get it. Throughout the overhaul, Wolfson would often say that “if you think you are talking too much, you’re probably talking just the right amount.”
“When I think about Captain Dianna Wolfson and the success of the Newport News EOH, I think about how she was an extraordinary teammate,” said NNSY Submarine Program Manager Pat Ensley, who served as Deputy Project Superintendent on the overhaul. “I have never worked with and for someone who makes everything so personal, because leadership is not about a title or a position, it’s about impact, influence, and most of all, inspiration. Captain Wolfson is about impact that involves getting results. Her influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and most importantly, you have to inspire teammates to drive that culture of success.”
Wolfson continues to inspire teammates to this day. By her administrative assistant Jennifer Duke’s count, Wolfson has likely mentored in excess of 100 people during her time as NNSY Operations Officer. When you demonstrate care and commitment while forging personal connections the way Wolfson does, it’s only natural people seek you out. As far as advice Wolfson would provide to others aspiring to make history in their career fields, her answer is instantaneous. “I do a lot of mentoring with both young women and men. My answer is similar to both. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing. If you have a passion for what you do every day in your job, then the heavy lifting is easy. No matter if you’re a man or a woman, you’re going to drive to be successful and you’re going to figure it out. Men and women alike have to figure life out.”
Weeks after the announcement, Wolfson is still processing the outpouring of congratulations—the NNSY Facebook post about her CO selection quickly became of the most liked posts in the page’s nearly 10-year history. Common adjectives used to describe her included, but were not limited to, “awesome,” “amazing” and “great.” “The recognition from high school friends, college friends, folks that are reaching out to me, it’s amazing and seems surreal!” said Wolfson. “But what’s most cool to me is how this is encouraging to young women and helping them realize there’s no glass ceiling in the Navy. You can do it too!”
For more news from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, visit www.navy.mil/local/nnsy/.