BY BRIAN J. DAVIS , OFFICE OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS
NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER PUGET SOUND
Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Puget Sound hosted a Women’s History Month presentation March 15 at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport.
The event featured presentations from two guest speakers followed by a question and answer session with the speakers and a third panelist, all current or retired military.
Speakers for the event were Michele Burk, chief logistician for the Naval Undersea Warfare Command (NUWC) Keyport, and Lt. Cmdr. Britta Christianson, head of the NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Operations Department. Both presenters focused primarily on the unusual paths their careers had taken, and what they learned from their experiences.
“I knew that Ms. Burk and Lt. Cmdr. Christianson would provide motivating insight,” said Cindy Brown, NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Workforce Development coordinator and organizer for the day’s events. “They had a wide variety of life experiences. Each speaker has a unique personality and presentation ... some formal and some storytelling.”
Burk, a retired Navy Supply Corps officer, joined the Navy in 1987 when she was commissioned through the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at the University of Michigan. Moving up through the ranks, she served on three ships and served shore tours as an instructor, research analyst, executive officer, and commanding officer at FLC Puget Sound.
“There is no road map,” said Burk, speaking about the “nontraditional career path” her Navy career had followed, urging women in the audience to find their own path in their work and life.
Reflecting on her time on active duty, she gave a number of examples of how unexpected circumstances shaped her career. During her tour as an executive officer at NAVSUP FLC Puget Sound Burk’s commanding officer committed suicide, thrusting her into the role of CO with the added responsibility of navigating her command through a tragic, difficult time.
Walking the audience through her career, three subjects came up repeatedly: mentorship, balance, and communication.
According to Burk, being mentored by trusted leaders made a significant impact on her career track, but it can have just as much of an impact to “pay it forward” and step into the role of being the mentor.
“The mentor and the mentored both receive,” said Burk.
She also touched on work-life balance and how she eventually found herself weighing her career against the needs of her family. Work is important, but life is a lot more important than work, she said.
In order to be successful, Burk said that the ability to communicate effectively is critical for a woman to succeed, especially in a traditionally male-dominated career field. Knowing one’s audience, having a clear message, and being able to deliver that message are key aspects of communication.
“Communication makes such a difference,” said Burke. “When you talk with respect and confidence, people listen.”
Christianson’s presentation also focused on the unique aspects of her career in the Navy. She provided the narration as her story unfolded through a series of photographs on the theater’s movie screen.
Christianson initially intended to join the Navy to become a nurse, but circumstances launched her in a different direction that took her on to earn her wings at Naval Flight Officer School, to a lateral transfer into the Supply Corps, and eventually be the first woman qualified in submarines and Diving Officer of the Watch.
Christianson’s presentation also touched on her experiences during her deployment to Forward Operating Base Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan. Of her most memorable moments were her interactions with children outside the wire and her participation in efforts to rebuild and equip a local school for Afghan girls. She showed numerous photographs of local children she befriended. Although her tour was years ago, she seemed visibly moved as she pointed out the children that were killed as a result of fighting in the area.
“Afghanistan made me appreciate how fortunate I am to be a woman born in the United States,” said Christianson.
Following the speakers’ presentations, the program turned to a panel discussion. Joining Burk and Christianson to discuss questions from the audience was Senior Chief Logistics Specialist Stephanie Lerette, Stock Control leading chief petty officer aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68), homeported in Bremerton, Washington.
Lerette’s career began when she enlisted after she decided to quit college. Her assignments as an aviation storekeeper and later logistics specialist included tours in Sigonella, Sicily; Brunswick, Maine; and aboard Nimitz in Bremerton.
Audience questions and topics of discussion included leadership techniques, the challenges faced by military women with children, and perspectives on young women currently considering a career in the military.
The candid and honest discussions and the unique perspectives of the presenters brought several positive comments from members of the audience.
“I was encouraged to hear that important moments and decisions in life can sometimes be rooted in disappointment - no money for college, not qualifying for nursing school, the death of a coworker, or life in a place like Afghanistan - an yet the resulting career is viewed as successful and rewarding,” said Brown.