By Lt. Alexis Travis, Food Service Instructor
Navy Supply Corps School
Returning to the Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS) in Newport, Rhode Island after four years in the fleet is a little like coming back for a hometown high school visit. Were the hallways always this color? Did we always have that painting on the wall? Usually, the only thing that has changed in absentia is you. Except in my case, now that I am back as an instructor, I’ve noticed something personal and amazing has changed. To understand it, we have to go back to when I was a student with 3rd Battalion in 2014.
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Lt. Alexis Travis aboard USS Georgia (SSBN 729) executing a proof of concept for Underway Submarine Med-Evac with a SH-60 helicopter in the background. –photo by Lt. Alexis Travis
It was the spring, and we finally reached the point in our Basic Qualification Course (BQC) where every class is focused (with laserlike precision) on independent duty boards and billet selection. I was nothing, if not forward leaning, and threw my name in the ring for submarine duty consideration. The only problem was that in 2014, unqualified female ensigns were not directly assigned to submarines from the BQC. As a logical step in Submarine Force integration, the Navy was selecting only proven, qualified lieutenants to fill those billets. Subsequently, I left the schoolhouse headed for a more traditional first operational tour.
When I did finally step aboard a submarine, the tour was wildly different from what I anticipated. I thought getting work done would be difficult because my actions would be overanalyzed, or “nuked” by my line counterparts. However, what I discovered was a passionately mission-focused and success driven community of professionals. I became part of a crew that didn’t just comply with procedures for inspection’s sake, but conformed because they deeply understood and valued the governing principles that drive shipboard standards and processes. The phrase “only a submariner knows to what extent the entire ship depends on him or her,” is not just a platitude, it is a universal truth for everyone who submerges.
Whether skimming the surface or quietly transiting below the waves, I experienced the common challenges: extended deployments and long periods without communication from the outside world. As the most senior ranking female on board, I had the unique opportunity to provide the leadership triad with feedback from the female crew member perspective. This trusted access helped me become a better leader and a more valued Supply Corps asset. I was learning to excel at my “Chop” duties while assigned the same watch standing positions as my unrestricted line counterparts. I was growing into someone who could positively represent the Supply Corps and mentor men and women who were not even in my professional community.
The greatest thing my captain ever told me was, “I think you’ve learned all you can here. You’re an entirely different leader than when you stepped aboard,” and he was right. Audits were no longer viewed as mindless paperwork, and training was not just a check in the box. When I understood and embraced my potential to strategically impact my people and the mission, I earned the coveted title of “Battlechop” from the crew.
So while I had changed when I stepped back into the schoolhouse, I expected NSCS to be the same, relatively static world I observed four years prior… but it wasn’t. Upon my return as an instructor, I led my first battalion through their officer-like quality boards, independent duty boards and billet selection, and observed with pride that Women in Submarines (WIS) were well represented. There were bright, hard-charging women who were “running with the big dogs,” and were finally allowed to prove themselves alongside their male peers. The WIS program allows us to send our very best and brightest to the Navy’s most challenging billets. As an instructor, I now get to mentor and help forge the next generation of chops, without regard for gender. It is a tremendous honor to train our future leaders and create opportunities for them to succeed in the Supply Corps.