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CHIPS Articles: Women's History Month: Rear Admiral Nancy Norton

Women's History Month: Rear Admiral Nancy Norton
Careers with a purpose: Information Warfare
By Defense Media Activity - March 8, 2016
"From the Revolutionary War to current conflicts, women have played a crucial role in the security of our nation and the success of the U.S. Navy. Join us as we celebrate Women's History Month by profiling women leaders and pioneers across the Navy."

Q: How did you decide to join the Navy?

A: I became interested in joining the Navy early in high school, when I saw the ad campaign "Join the Navy and see the world". That appealed to me, as did the promise of funding for college, when I didn't think I would be able to afford it on my own. But after receiving scholarships for college, I started a pre-med program and forgot about the Navy for a few years.

When I got to my senior year in college and realized that I would not be able to get scholarships for medical school, I decided to pursue the Military Medical Scholarship Program. From those discussions with recruiters, I ended up going to the Navy's Officer Candidate School, and decided not to pursue medicine, but instead found that I really enjoyed working in communications and computer networks.

Q: Who have your role models or mentors been that have influenced you or helped to guide you throughout your Navy career?

A: My parents influenced my thinking from the time that I was a small child, telling me that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be, if I worked hard at it. My Mom was a great role model for me. As a single mother in the early 1970's, she became a police officer as a way to make a decent living for our family. She was an early pioneer, as one of a very few women on the force at that time, and it was not easy for her. But she was tough and persistent, and I learned that I could be also, even when doing something very new.

In my first tour in the Navy, I worked with a wonderful mentor and role model, CWO3 (Ret) Bobby Ravenkamp. She was one of the first women in ships, and she shared her experiences and lessons with me, and taught me a great deal technically, but more important, she taught me how to be a professional, and to promote and lead integration and teamwork across diverse groups. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career, with too many other wonderful mentors and role models to name them all, including a number of Chief Petty Officers, who taught me and guided me along the way.

But two mentors that I learned tremendous lessons from while serving as their executive assistants are RADM (Ret) Betsy Hight, and ADM (Ret) Jonathan Greenert. They both taught me how to work hard and prioritize the efforts that are most important to our Navy and national security. But they also taught me how to handle pressure, how to use the toughness and persistence that my Mom modeled for me, and how to treat people with respect and kindness, under any circumstances.

Q: Can you share a story about someone, perhaps someone in your family or otherwise, who has influenced you or challenged you to become more than perhaps even you ever thought you might?

A: My husband has challenged me since we began dating long ago, to be a better person and a better Naval Officer. His own example of hard work and professionalism pushed me to try to match him. He has always encouraged me to try new things that would test my limits, whether that was bungee jumping or asking for an extremely difficult job. And he has always provided the constant encouragement that helped me believe that I would succeed (or wouldn't fall to my death!). His expectations of me and my performance, and his help along the way, have made me reach well beyond the limits I would have set for myself. I wish everyone had a partner that would do the same for them.

Q: Please tell us which past assignments are the most memorable to you and why?

A: I have had an incredible career in the US Navy, and have found every job interesting and fulfilling. I have traveled the world and met amazing people, US and allies and partners, who are dedicated to supporting national security and freedom around the world. I could talk about a number of challenging events, but one of the most interesting was my time serving on the aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE. We were deployed in the Arabian Gulf on 9/11/2001, and immediately shifted from a peacetime posture to preparations to conduct the first tomahawk missile and air strikes into Afghanistan. I was responsible for making sure that all of the communications worked properly to integrate with a second aircraft carrier and to launch missiles, all while watching and worrying about family and friends back home who were vulnerable to another terrorist attack. Our job was to prevent any future attacks and the crew worked together in an amazing way to fulfill our mission.

Another was being in command of Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station in Bahrain during OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM and OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. The Sailors that worked for me there were responsible for maintaining communications and computer networks for joint forces throughout the Middle East. They were all serving unaccompanied tours and working long hours, but their hard work and dedication to ensuring that the men and women serving in combat were properly supported impressed me every day I was in command. They made me proud to serve in the United States Navy.

Q: What does being a leader in the Navy mean to you?

A: Being a leader in the Navy starts the day you enter service, officer or enlisted. And it doesn't stop until you take off the uniform, if then. It means that you are willing to work hard and push yourself to make each team you are a part of better by your presence, whether that is your company in boot camp, or your work center, department or command.

You have an opportunity and an obligation each day to do your best to create the conditions that allow every Sailor and civilian in your circle of influence to maximize their potential. Nearly every person in the Navy wants to contribute and make a difference. They signed up, either in uniform or as a civilian, because they wanted to do something more than just get a job, and be something more than an employee. They wanted to be part of something important.

And every leader is responsible for being a good steward of their motivation and effort. I feel like I am a successful leader when those around me can go home at the end of the day and feel like they achieved their goal of contributing to our Navy and national security. I try to remove the barriers that keep that from happening, and provide the tools that they need. And as a leader, I hope to empower them and encourage them to become stronger and more confident leaders. The ultimate reward of good leadership is seeing the people who worked for you become great leaders over time.

Reprinted from the U.S. Navy’s All Hands Magazine:

Women's History Month graphic featuring Rear Admiral Nancy Norton. U.S. Navy image.
Photos of Rear Adm. Norton's career assignments. U.S. Navy photo
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