This is an excerpt from the book “Ready for Sea, The Bicentennial History of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps”
by retired Rear Adm. Frank J. Allston, SC, USN.
This issue’s Lore of the Corps focuses on retired Capt. Ruth Marie Tomsuden, who completed 27 years of active service and retired in August 1986 after serving as Commanding Officer, Navy Food Service Systems Office, the first woman to command in the Supply Corps and the Naval Material Command.
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Capt. Ruth M. Tomsuden, SC, USN relieves Capt. A. S. Davis, SC, USN. Capt. Tomsuden was the first woman to have command of the Navy Food Service Systems Offi ce. She was also the first
woman to have a major command within the Naval Supply Systems Command.
Capt. Tomsuden was commissioned in the Supply Corps Reserves and says that doing so was the best decision she ever made. At the end of her first tour during the Korean War, she was not satisfied with only a two-year obligated tour and augmented into the Regular Navy. She went on to become the first woman to have a major Naval Material Command.
Ruth Marie Tomsuden was born in Brooklyn, New York, in April 1930, and World War II recruiting posters first interested her in the Navy. She was graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s of science degree in commerce in 1951 and talked with a Navy recruiter, who encouraged her to apply for a Reserve Supply Corps direct commission in April 1952.
Ens. Tomsuden completed the Staff Corps Program at the Navy Officer Candidate School, Newport, Rhode Island, in June 1952 and reported to Navy Supply Corps School Bayonne the following month. In November, she was ordered as a disbursing officer for civilian rolls, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California. Tomsuden was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, and augmented into the Regular Navy in the spring of 1954.
Lt.j.g. Tomsuden reported as disbursing officer in August 1954 on the staff, Commander Service Force, Pacific. She says she had to fine-tune a “can do” attitude among hard-working talented personnel who met the demands of paying all military on staff of Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet/Command Service Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet and settling travel claims on a walk-in basis. Tomsuden was promoted to lieutenant in 1956 and sent to Naval Stockyards and Docks, Bayonne in December, where she was stock control officer. Two experiences are particularly vivid in her memory. In the first instance, she received an anonymous call at the duty office, alerting her to a theft in progress. She immediately ordered a search of all vehicles leaving the base and went to the main gate to observe the operation. The guards discovered an attempt to remove a truck load of subsistence items and foul weather gear, and the perpetrators were apprehended. She was later a witness in the FBI investigation and subsequent trial.
In the second instance, a guard reported a man calling for help from the mud flats opposite the gate and about 300 yards from shore. The Bayonne Fire Department could not reach him, and he was sinking further into the mud as he struggled to free himself. Lt. Tomsuden called the Coast Guard, which sent a rescue helicopter to pluck the man, sans trousers, from sure death.
In September 1959, she was ordered to duty in the Office of the Navy Comptroller in Washington as assistant for travel in the Military Pay Division. Here, she encountered her first blatant opposition. A male warrant officer, for whom she was the numerical relief, said that if he were to be replaced by a woman officer, it was time for him to retire. On the positive side, she was involved in Navy travel pay issues ranging from staffing changes in legislation to implementing legislation; in answering questions, which included requests for comptroller general decisions; and was promoted to lieutenant commander.
Lt. Cmdr. Tomsuden was assigned to the Defense Personnel Support Center Philadelphia in August 1962 as branch chief in the Equipment and Footwear Division, Director of Procurement and Production. In her first procurement assignment, she had to work with commercial firms to gear up for production of tents, boots, and other military equipment. In 1966, Tomsuden was promoted to commander and reported for duty at the Naval Supply Systems Command, where she was personnel officer and security officer. For the first time, she had an opportunity to work closely with other Supply Corps officers.
Cmdr. Tomsuden reported to new duty in the Systems Analysis Division. Office of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) at the Pentagon in August 1968. This duty provided her first opportunity to observe high-level Navy operational procedures. She was also able to acquire experience in procurement processing and budgetary and planning cycles. She was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for her service on the CNO staff.
When Ruth Tomsuden entered the Navy, women could not aspire to ranks beyond lieutenant commander. She had been contemplating retirement with 20 years of service, but selection to captain changed her mind. In August 1972, Capt. Tomsuden was transferred to the Defense Supply Agency (DSA), Cameron Station, in Alexandria, Virginia, where she was assigned to a procurement billet. An incident at Cameron Station reminded Tomsuden that a woman senior officer was still a rarity. When attempting to locate a valued lost silver pen, she posted 3x5 cards in strategic locations around DSA headquarters, including one in a woman’s room. While she was there, two other women who were unaware of her presence saw Capt. Tomsuden’s name on the card. “What do you suppose he was doing in here?” one said.
Capt. Tomsuden had been at DSA less than a year when Rear Adm. Wally Dowd, Chief of Supply Corps, offered her the opportunity for command. On 31 August 1973, she became Commanding Officer, Navy Food Service Systems Office (NFSSO), the first woman in command in the Supply Corps and the Naval Material Command. She recalls that she was blessed with “a superlative group of dedicated military and civilian professionals.” Her NFSSO post required extensive travel, giving her an opportunity to visit every ship type and every size shore station.
On retirement in 1975, she was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Commendation Medal. Capt. Tomsuden remained in the Washington area and lived in Falls Church, Virginia. She was an associate real estate broker for 15 years, and retired again in 1991. She traveled and was involved in volunteer work with the Area Agency for the Aging and the Animal Welfare League.
Retired Capt. Ruth M. Tomsuden, SC, U.S. Navy, passed away Jan. 20, 2007.