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June 19, 2015 / iDriveWarships

Admiral Speaks of Progress and Possibilities at 2015 Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium

Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral Thomas S. Rowden chats with participants of the 28th Annual Joint Women's Leadership Symposium June 11, 2015.

Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden chats with participants of the 28th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium June 11, 2015.

More than 750 men and women from all military services recently gathered for the 28th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium in San Diego. The event, put on by the national non-profit organization Sea Service Leadership Association (SSLA), focused on current issues facing women in the military through the theme “Progress and Possibilities: Embrace Our Future Now.” The symposium included discussion forums, questions-and-answer panels, interactive workshops, and multiple military and civilian speakers.

Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden spoke to the group and shared how he’s personally seen progress and possibilities for sea service leaders as the U.S. Navy has moved toward equality over time.

First, he related his experience as the commanding officer aboard USS Milius (DDG 69) during a time when there were only a few women, and even fewer women who were in leadership positions. During that tour he saw the ship’s first female Chief Petty Officer join the ‘Goat Locker.’ He also saw her save the career, and likely the life, of a young, male subordinate. This was important because it demonstrated to the crew that a female can be an impactful leader and mentor, with the ability to change lives, without being like her [male] subordinates. That was 15 years ago, he said. Today it’s commonplace to see women in powerful leadership and mentor positions throughout the Navy. That’s progress.

During the second story, Rowden told how in 1988 a promising young naval flight officer was discharged because the UCMJ rules of 1950, and the 1982 Defense Directive for Sexual Orientation, determined that he could no longer serve simply because he was gay. Despite his demonstrated talent as an aviator he was discharged just for being who he was. Thankfully that young man was able to successfully navigate the unplanned career change. He went on to earn his PhD and continues to have a very successful civilian career.

While many people were prohibited from serving under the previous directive, Rowden reflected that now brave men and woman serve openly, without the fear of being discharged. He added that even though it took time, the Navy did change. That’s progress. He pointed out that as the country’s policies have changed, the military has been on the bow wave of that change and as a maturing organization in the midst of challenging times, we cannot turn our back on any youth with potential and must not relent in efforts to manage talent for the future. That opens the door to possibility.

While Rowden admits the Navy of today is still a male-dominated organization with progress to make, it also offers clear paths of opportunity as well. For instance: all new ships are built to accommodate females, a dozen commanding officers of surface combatants are women, there’s growing success for female enlisted and officers, as well as minorities, as they lean forward and excel as leaders. They’re all paving the way for the future, leaning in, and leading the way. As women work to lay the foundation, Rowden encouraged them to mentor others, even though they may not be like them, and to demonstrate their will, prowess, bravery, and patience as leaders because they can make a difference, or save a life.

For more information about the Sea Service Leadership Association check them out on the web at


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