The Transylvania Times -

Herbert Gives Back To Country, Community

 

April 4, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Herbert on the USS George Washington off the Coast of Naples.

After 30 years in the Navy, retired Rear Admiral Gretchen Herbert continues giving back to communities with STEM advocacy and community involvement.

"I would encourage anyone to find a way to give back," Herbert said. "We live in a community and we live in a society where it is better when we look outward and see how we can help others and give back."

Herbert began her Navy service in 1984 after graduating from the ROTC program at the University of Rochester in New York.

Her decision was made after her father urged her to apply for the ROTC scholarship while in high school.

"Parents do know better than the kids," Herbert said. "I think it was probably within my first week in ROTC when I thought 'this is going to be right for me.'"

What began as a four-year plan transitioned into a 30-year career. Herbert earned a master's degree in systems technology (Space Systems Operations) and a master's degree in military studies.

In 1984, the combat exclusion prevented women from serving in combat rolls. Herbert knew she wanted to pursue something operational. The sound surveillance system was listening to devices on the ocean floor and tracking Soviet Union submarines.

"We had all these listening devices out so we would be able to tell if a submarine was a U.S. submarine, a British submarine, or a Soviet submarine," Herbert said. "We would then pass that information along to the folks who would carry out the prosecution of the subs."

In this operation, Herbert was working with just as many women as men.

"I never really looked at being a female in the Navy as being a minority because most of the commands I was serving in and the people I was dealing with were pretty equal when looking at gender," Herbert said. "It wasn't until I moved on and got some ship board tours after they lifted the exclusion that I started noticing that I was, both in the officer realm and the enlisted realm, a bit of the minority."

Just 13 percent of the officers were females.

"I don't think that this was unusual, and I did not feel like there were any restrictions or hurdles I had to go over by being in a predominantly male occupation," Herbert said. "My experience, I do think, was different from other women in the Navy.

"There were some women, friends of mine, that had to deal with sexual harassment, or periods of assault or feelings of exclusion. I never experienced that myself. I never felt uncomfortable that my gender was stopping me or preventing me from doing the things I wanted to do."

Herbert compared the statics of sexual assault or harassment as a microcosm of the rest of society.

"It is a sad state when you can say that the 'Me, Too' movement is something in 2019 that we still have to be concerned with," Herbert said. "Those are some very brave women that are coming forward and talking about their experiences. It takes a lot of courage."

Thinking back on her experiences, Herbert said all the memories are good ones, even the tougher ones.

"My favorite tour was my first aircraft carrier. I was the Combat System Officer on the George Washington and we deployed into the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf," Herbert said. "It is an entire city, 5,000 people. And you got to know everybody very well and you all have a common purpose.

"Both times we went out it was to respond to support ground forces in Iraq or in Afghanistan. It was great watching the aircraft launch and recover after successful missions."

Herbert served on the USS George Washington from 2002-2004 in support of operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. She was also on the USS Ronald Reagan from 2006-2008.

Herbert also served as commander of the Oceanographic Systems Atlantic before working her way up the ranks to commanding officer of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station in Washington and assistant chief of Naval Operations for the Next Generation Enterprise Network, with other positions in between.

She assumed command of the Navy Cyber Forces at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia in 2011.

"Some of the more rewarding parts of my senior career was when I hit the command of a communication station and when I had command of a cyber station," Herbert said. "You really got to work with the sailors and your chiefs to set goals and set some priorities for the command's mission and really work with them to bring the Navy forward."

Herbert has continuously been giving back to the community. She is on the advisory council for the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming and from the mid-1990s to 2015 she traveled to different middle schools and high schools to promote STEM and advocate to mostly young women about pursuing a science major when they got to college.

"We have so many ladies now in the military that are engineers, nuclear engineers on submarines, service airfare officers that have to deal with the propulsion plants and some of the physical avenues of keeping a ship or submarine maintained," Herbert said. "STEM is a really important part for coming into the military and in other jobs not in the military as well."

Locally, she works with the local AAUW and serves on the board of Transylvania Vocational Service (TVS) and VISION Transylvania County.

Herbert has advice for not only young women but anyone looking for an opportunity to serve something greater than one's self.

"Don't pigeonhole yourself and think you have to have it all figured out right from the beginning of your working career," she said. "If you have a hiccup or a challenge, or if you think you failed at something, it is just another wonderful training opportunity to learn more about yourself and how you might approach something differently.

Courtesy Photo

Rear Admiral Gretchen Herbert

"My biggest warning would be once you feel like you are really settled, and you are not having to learn anything new or be challenged, then you are missing out on some really great opportunities. It may be time to shake it up and keep learning."

Herbert plans on staying in Brevard.

"There are so many [volunteer opportunities] I would love to be a part of if I had the time, like Rise & Shine, the Boys & Girls Club, Free Rein," Herbert said. "It is a great community, and we are fortunate to have found it."

(Welch is a student at Brevard College and has been doing some intern work at The Transylvania Times.)

 
 

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