Out To Sea: A Female’s Experience in the Navy

I met Eleanor through a Facebook group and was excited to hear her story because she deployed with the Navy on an Amphibious Ship. I was really intrigued by her story because I haven’t ever talked to a female about being on a Naval Ship. I think you will find her insight fascinating. I am so excited to have her share her story.

What is it like to serve on a Naval Vessel. The ratio of men to women can be daunting, but somehow she made it through. Read her whole story.

Name:

Eleanor Duelley

Rank during deployment:

O2/3

Branch of Service:

Navy

Current rank/current job if you have left the military:

Holistic Health Coach

Where did you deploy?

The Persian Gulf

What was you or your team’s mission?

I was on an Amphibious Ship, Lock/Port Dock, and we took 1500 US Marines to their destination in Kuwait City.

What does an Amphibious Ship do? How big is it? How is it different from various ships in the Navy’s fleet?

Amphibious Ships are able to transport Marines (1500+) and their amphibious equipment (Hover Craft, boats, etc) and their land equipment (weapons, packs, food) and also Navy Seals. Our mission was to take them from North Carolina to Kuwait City. There is also a flight deck that has Helicopters and Marine planes. It is pretty big, a little smaller than an aircraft carrier.

What was your job (general duties/daily tasks/as many details as possible)?

I was amongst a group of Junior Officers responsible for navigating and driving our warship to it’s desired destination. I was also responsible for Training and Maintenance on navigation/radar equipment.
I was Assistant Operations Officer, Officer of the Deck, Conning Officer, Combat Information Center Officer.
As Officer of the Deck (OOD), I would be in charge of making the navigational decisions and responsibility of the overall ship maneuverability, including speed, direction and interaction with other vessels. Conning Officer was Assistant OOD, and would take direction from the OOD in ship driving. Combat Information Center Officer would be in charge of reporting navigational hazards, contacts or potential crisis found via radar and sonar to the OOD.

Did you have any special training to navigate the ship? Was it a team of people who worked various shifts or was it a multiple person job all the time?

I graduated from Surface Warfare Officer’s School, so I was qualified to navigate the ship, but having hands on training and confidence comes “on the job” and is at the discretion of the Commanding Officer. In my case, he did not allow me to train on the bridge with the other Junior Officers, so I was not able to qualify with my male peers, and was very behind in confidence and experience.

What was it like to be on a ship for 6 months at a time?

It was great to experience the camaraderie of the crew and experience other countries, but it was very hard to be thrust into a job that I was not particularly trained for or liked, and amongst male peers that did not respect me as equal. Everyday was a challenge and I found myself rising to the challenges as they came. I missed my family and home life terribly, but knew that everyone had the same feelings, so I didn’t dwell on my own. 

Is there something the ship had that most people don’t expect? Was there a gym?

I wouldn’t call it a gym. You might…. There was 1 set of hand weights (probably from the Vietnam period, rusty and nasty) and one functioning treadmill that was tied to the I-beams next to the wall, so when the ship was in heavy seas, the treadmill would only shift slightly preventing it from toppling onto you (if the rope held). There was also little to no ventilation and with almost 1800 men onboard, it was very unhygienic. I often was watched and gawked at when I attempted to workout, so I gave up and did it in the privacy of my own stateroom.

What cultural differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?

Bahrain was our only port visit, and it is primarily Muslim and very conservative. Women were basically treated inferior to men.

How long were you in Bahrain?

Only 3 days.

What landscape differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?

It was mountainous, brown and very dry. Sand storms were common and it was ungodly hot. Some days it was 120 degrees.

Were there any particular foods that you ate while overseas that was different from the United States?

Food was provided on the ship and prepared by our own crew. They gave us meals that were traditional and were provided from our resources in the United States.

Did you have any meals that were special while on the ship? Sometimes we had special meals at the FOB for various events (4th of July, etc.)

Yes!! The mess cooks always made a point to make us feel special on holidays. Once in a blue moon we would get (frozen) steak as a treat, or turkey on Thanksgiving.  If the weather permitted, once every 90 days we would have a BBQ on the fantail of the ship, while at sea. That was pretty cool. It was called a steel-beach picnic.

What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in the country you were deployed?

Women were treated inferior and created awkward situations when “westerners” were walking freely around the shops and restaurants in our normal clothing. Language was a slight barrier, since most people understand basic English.

Do you remember being treated differently than your male counterparts either by the local people or other members on the team?

Yes. I was approached by some strange and frightening men and I was extremely uncomfortable.

This sounds scary, how did you get out of this situation?

I actually pretended I had to use the restroom and fled the building with my friend. We ran off and hopped in a taxi, out to find the rest of our male friends. After that, we chose to not interact with the locals.

What challenges did you face?

I had challenges everyday relating to our ship being primarily male. There were 4 women, among almost 2,000. So the day-to-day dealings could be very inappropriate and unprofessional. I have dealt with sexual harassment pretty much every week while I was serving in the Military.

When I approached my superiors (the ones who were not harassing me), I got brushed off and told that I was being dramatic. It made work challenging in the fact that as a woman, I had to always be working harder than everybody else because I was constantly under a microscope. It was uncomfortable and made my work-life very distressing. I was often completely stressed out and constantly creating ways to cope with the daily situations.

How frustrating and sad. I’m sorry to hear you dealt with this. Did this make you question your choice to join the military?

I actually didn’t realize there was anything “wrong” about it. I thought all women were treated unfairly (esp in the military), and I learned my lesson about speaking up once I tried. It wasn’t until I got out of the military I realized how disrespectful, harassing and unprofessional the behavior was that I encountered. 

What were ways you found to cope with harassment?

Mostly ignore it, and talk to my only other girlfriend onboard. I would drink a lot so I could forget about having to continually go to work in that environment.

What advice would you give girls considering joining the military? Would this deter you from recommending someone to join?

Things are very different now, but I do not believe anyone that tells me everything is equal. I don’t think that will ever happen. I would never dissuade any woman from joining and thriving, I just would advise to be strong and understand that things are unfair, so don’t expect special or equal treatment.  I would not recommend my community, not only for the sexual harassment, but the day-to-day operations are horribly managed and the quality of life is purposely and boastfully promoted to be poor. It’s very frustrating and sad when your boss tells you if you want to go to church on a religious holiday that you have to use a vacation day.

What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?

The true friendship I have made with my female roommate. We banded together and supported each other. It was truly the best part of my Naval Career.

Friends really do make things better. Do you still keep in contact with any of your friends from your deployment?

Absolutely. We don’t live near each other, so distance is hard, but we do keep in touch.

Is there a memory or story from your deployment you want to share?

Watching the sunrise over the water with nothing else in sight was always the most peaceful and beautiful time of day.

Was this a regular occurrence? Or a special treat?

Haha. I was on watch 8-10 hours every day at sea (in addition to my job, which was 8-10 hours), so pretty much every other day.

What question do you get when people find out you deployed?

“Really?” As if to say, “you don’t fit the profile of a Female Surface Warfare Officer”.

Thank you Eleanor for sharing your story!

Eleanor Duelley is a Work at Home Mom of 3, Navy Veteran, Military Spouse and Certified Holistic Health Coach. She has helped struggling moms transform their lives from unmotivated, unsure and unhealthy back to healthy, happy and confident! Her website is: besimplehealthywell.com. Check out Eleanor’s blog and like her Facebook page: Holistic Health from the military wife or join my Facebook group Healthy Moms Love Wine Too.

This is Day 11 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories. Here is a complete list of all 31 Days. Yesterday I shared the story of a What You Learn About Yourself During Your Husband’s Deployment. Tomorrow I will share another female Navy veteran’s story of being out at sea. Don’t miss a post! Join my weekly email list here.

9 comments on “Out To Sea: A Female’s Experience in the Navy

    • I know isn’t Eleanor story powerful? I’m so glad she shared it with me so I could share it with all of you. Thanks again for sharing Eleanor!

  1. Well, said. Proud you had the courage to share your comments about being female onboard a ship and some of the challenges females face and how it’s was/was not dealt with, it’s amazing how we (females) learned to adapt and consider this normal. As I look back at some of the blatant sexual harassment situations, it amazes me that I made it as far as I did and I am even more thankful of where I am now. Thanks for sharing!

    • I am so thankful for the women who went before me. I thought it was so interesting to learn about the challenges that Eleanor faced while she was in. I didn’t feel the same thing when I served and I’m hoping it is because things are changing. Thank you for your service, Marie.

    • It truly is. When I received the first round of responses, I had so many questions and was so excited to have such a unique experience. I am so happy to have Eleanor’s experience included in this series.

  2. Fascinating reading Eleanor’s story. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to struggle with that every single day. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Blessings!

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