11 For ELEVEN: Honoring the Women Among Us

(By Marlene M. Houngbedji)

In November 1972, a woman by the name of Carmella J. Jones became the first female enlisted to serve in a naval construction battalion as an Equipment Operator. By 1993, all women were allowed to join the naval construction forces; female Seabees’ accomplishments thereafter have helped redefine our ‘Can Do’ ethos and during an eventful period spanning from March 2011 to March 2012, a few carved new paragraphs in the naval construction forces’ chronicles. Besides the first all-female Seabee team making history in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and Equipmentman Master Chief (EQCM) Kathy Keith claiming the title of first female construction mechanic master chief, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 welcomed Commander Lore Aguayo, its first female Commanding Officer. Others were singled-out as the epitome of this year’s Women’s History Month theme of “Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment.”
11 women for Eleven, here are their stories.

A Builder and Future Psychotherapist (Headquarters)
When asked about the challenges she has encountered as a female Seabee, Builder 1st Class (SCW) Ina M. Baca, 33, of Eustis, FL, recalls being seen as less of a builder because of her gender. Sixteen years, several commendations – including three Navy Achievement Medals for her performance as Crew Leader and one Navy Commendation Medal for her performance as an instructor with the 20th Naval Construction Regiment – and numerous projects later, however, Baca now assists troops with decisions pertaining to their careers. “BU1’s contribution to the Command Career Counselor (CCC) office is outstanding,” says NMCB 11’s CCC UTC (SCW/NAC) Sean Stewart, “her organizational skills and genuine concern for the Battalion’s Seabees and Sailors is a key to running an effective program.” A dedicated horseback rider, Baca plans on pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with certification in Animal Assisted Psychotherapy and running her own clinic/ranch.

The Utilities Woman (DET 2)
“I plan to stay in the Seabees until my twenty-year mark and retire with a Bachelor in Psychology,” says Utilitiesman Constructionman (SCW) Brittany Ann Champion, 20, of Pensacola, FL. Major accomplishments during her two years in the Navy include acting as Safety Petty-Officer for a homeport project, qualifying for Seabee Combat Warfare while on her first PACOM deployment, attending college classes, assisting in the construction of a new medical facility in Camp Covington, Guam, and being a crew member for the construction of a 60” x 110” K-span. When not involved in projects, Champion volunteers at a Gulfport elementary school and at Veterans Honor Flights. Her plans once her Bachelor’s Degree is completed? Work with the Behavioral Analysis Unit within the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Outstanding Crew Leader (DET 2)
When she checked into NMCB 11 in January 2011, Builder 3rd Class (SCW) Megan E. Dunton, 33, of Columbus, OH, already had quite a few accomplishments under her belt. Experience in construction management and a Civil Engineering degree (Masters) that could have led her straight to Officer Candidate School are two of the many skills she brought from the civilian world. She chose to enlist in order to gain practical experience in the fields of construction and civil engineering. In her year and eight months in the US Navy, Dunton was selected as CBC Area Blue Jacket of the Quarter (2011), awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, was a custodian for the construction of the Inert Ordnance Facility in Panama City, FL (2011), assisted in the Planning & Estimate of a K-span at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank, and acted as a Project Safety Petty Officer during the battalion’s Field Training Exercise. Dunton is, according to her supervisors, an outstanding crew leader who has shown nothing less than outstanding performance [by] constantly engineering more efficient methods to help streamline construction projects. “She is a junior 3rd Class Petty Officer who acts and performs like a sound 2nd Class,” says Builder 1st Class (SCW) David Kaiser, “she exemplifies the Seabee ‘Can Do’ spirit by getting the job done no matter the obstacle, be it time or materials.” Commenting on the challenges she had to face, Dunton believes them to be similar to those of any other Seabee: long hours, extreme weather, and often less than ideal conditions. “Perhaps the only difference,” she adds, “would be overcoming the possible stereotype that women don’t like to sweat or get their hands dirty, but that’s a big part of being a Seabee so I enjoy it and wouldn’t expect anything less.” This former women’s professional football player’s expectations for her own naval career include applying for Officer Candidate School and working as a project manager for the US Navy.

The Dedicated Newcomer (Delta)
“No matter how bad things get,” says Builder Constructionman Melanie L. Hamilton, 25, of Akron, OH, “don’t let negative things get you down and you’ll have a lot more fun and learn a lot more.” Having checked into NMCB 11 in September 2011, Hamilton carries her positive attitude in the workplace, praising her chain-of-command for not treating her differently than any other Seabees. “I work just as hard as everyone else, so there aren’t any complaints about my keeping up with any of the guys either,” Hamilton adds, also grateful for the training opportunities she has so far received. Despite having been in the command only a short time, LT Chet Wyckoff notes, “BUCN Hamilton has already shown she has unlimited potential. Working for Camp Maintenance, she is quick to identify deficiencies and make recommendations, ensuring the Company runs smoothly.” Characterized as energetic, Hamilton plans on obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology then a Master’s Degree in a similar field.

A Builder and Art-Designer (DET 4)
Port Byron, NY, brought us Builder Constructionman Amanda S. Hollister, the recipient of two college degrees (Studio Arts and Design). Acting as a Public Affairs Representative and Delayed Party Adjutant for DET 4, participating in three homeport projects since checking into NMCB 11 in August 2011, and volunteering with Honor Flights and elementary schools in Gulfport, MS, paint a flattering portrait of the junior Seabee her supervisor, Builder 1st Class (SCW) Anthony Boldrey, sees as eager to learn. “Even going out of her rate,” he adds, “she asked to help me with caulking the bathroom showers for barracks. Constructionman Hollister always displays military bearing and a good attitude towards all personnel. I believe she will excel in everything she does.” Hollister considers proving she can keep up every day a personal challenge; she therefore works to “uphold not just the general everyday Navy standards,” as she eloquently puts it, “but also to prove I can learn and work as hard as any other Seabee, whether male or female.” Committing to finding the balance between being a woman and being a Seabee has made her “emotionally, physically and morally strong,” she said.

A Seabee at the Core (CSE)
“At the core,” says Ensign Jed Lomax of Builder Constructionman (SCW) Leslie L. Keen, 26, of Tulsa, OK, “she is a Seabee.” Fighting the stigma that comes along with being a female in the military was one of BUCN Keen’s first challenges. She confessed to have always wanted to become a service member; now one of the toughest members of NMCB 11’s Convoy Security Element (CSE), according to ENS Lomax, she is always willing to go the extra mile, works hard and diligently at whatever task she is assigned. A Seabee who has volunteered over 140 hours to community service, Keen hopes to one day be considered for the Seaman to Admiral (STA-21) commissioning program.

The Hard-Charging Yeoman (Headquarters)
Welcomed into NMCB 11 in July 2011, Yeoman 3rd Class Giselle L. Murrell, 25, of Houston, TX, joins a team of outstanding administrative specialists. Her career goals include making it to the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class and completing the three courses she has left to obtain her Associate’s Degree, which should precede a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. YN3 Murrell is the recipient of a Flag Letter of Commendation (FLOC) and a Good Conduct Medal.


The Equal Contributor (Alfa)
Five years in the Navy made Equipment Operator 3rd Class (SCW) Jessica L. Leonard, 24, of Sulphur, LA, strive to become what she refers to as an ‘equal contributor’ in her job. It is a quality of which LT Bryan Wilson took notice: “Petty Officer Leonard is an accomplished and dedicated Seabee who ensures we meet the mission always. She shows great pride, understanding her role in delivering valuable equipment and materials to outlying detachment sites.” She participated in three water well missions, then in a quarry project in Guam during last PACOM deployment, and became the Safety Supervisor on the battalion’s McCool School project. Her keenness to grow into a highly skilled worker earned her the esteem of her superiors. “Petty Officer Leonard is sought out for her technical knowledge and her aggressive work ethic,” says Master Chief Equipmentman (SCW) Derrick Arrington, “and her performance has allowed me to assign her to the toughest assignments.” Leonard’s future plans include taking advantage of the Navy College Program to further her education.

The Construction Technology Expert in Training (Headquarters)
As a former Bravo Company Assistant Company Fitness Leader who was heavily involved with the homeport Camp Shelby and Technical Trainer projects, Builder Constructionman Anna L. Parcher has shown levels of integrity and personal drive her superiors find refreshing. “Since checking on board NMCB 11, BUCN Parcher has consistently displayed the highest qualities of technical skills, physical readiness and dedication to the mission,” says Utiliesman 1st Class (SCW) Emily A. Fowler of the 19-year-old native of Jamestown, PA. “She’s a rising star within the Naval Construction Forces and makes any supervisor proud to serve beside her.” She volunteers for Habitat for Humanity among other organizations while off-duty and is a skilled horse-back rider. Currently taking Supervision and Management in Construction technology classes, she hopes to complete her Bachelor’s Degree and rise to the rank of Builder 2nd Class before the end of her first enlistment.

The Mission-Ready Equipment Operator (DET Dwyer)
As an El Salvador native whose family resettled in Naples, FL, Equipment Operator 3rd Class (SCW) Carmen P. Rivera had to face the combined challenges of adapting to two cultures: American and Seabee. Yet two and a half years into her naval career, Rivera’s attainments have made her an “up and coming superstar with unlimited potential related to her job,” as Chief Construction Mechanic (SCW) Robert R. Crespin says of the 26 year-old, “she’s willing to try different things to meet mission needs and always asks for more tasking. She is the true meaning of ‘Can Do’.” EO3 (SCW) Rivera qualified for Seabee Combat Warfare after only eight months in the command, was one of two Equipment Operators to complete a six-man job, finished three college courses and successfully turned over $800,000-worth of collateral, which helped maintain and ensure the mission readiness of 247 pieces of Civil Engineer Support Equipment (CESE). “As a female EO,” she concedes, however, “it’s difficult to stand out and get recognition because it’s still a man’s field.”

The Leader and Morale-Booster (DET 4)
“She’s a great leader. She shows teamwork, patience and flexibility in both work and non-work situations,” says Builder 1st Class (SCW) Anthony Boldrey of Utilitiesman 3rd Class (SCW) Jessica P. Seefeld. “She is very well versed in Seabee Combat Warfare and has helped many constructionmen and petty officers learn topics.” She is known to show motivation in deployment settings, while keeping a sense of humor to help boost the morale of fellow Seabees. The 27-year-old native of Sanford, NC, acted as an Adjutant for Bridge Detail, was once a Safety Petty Officer for the Tech Trainer homeport project and works her hardest with every task she is entrusted with, trying to give 110% every single time. Asked about her career goals, Seefeld plans to retire from the Navy as a Master chief of 32 years, design her own home and have it built somewhere in North Carolina.

March is Women’s History month. As the Navy joins the country in celebrating women’s contributions for the 101st time, NMCB 11 partakes in this worldwide observance by paying tribute to not just eleven, but all females within its ranks.

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