The US Navy’s first female aircraft carrier commander: Leadership is tough

By Brad Lendon, Blake Essig and Emiko Jozuka, CNN

Amy Bauernschmidt is the rarest of the few.

The 51-year-old is part of a select group of US Navy officers: commanders of the 11 aircraft carriers in the US fleet.

Captain Bauernschmidt is the only woman in this group. In fact, she is the only woman to have commanded an American aircraft carrier, the largest and one of the most powerful warships afloat.

“(It’s) easily one of the most amazing jobs in the world,” she told CNN.

Most people would consider that an understatement.

Bauernschmidt commands the USS Abraham Lincoln, a 97,000-ton, 1,092-foot Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. With around 5,000 people on board, it’s the equivalent of a small town at sea.

It is also one of the centerpieces of American military power. More than 60 aircraft are aboard the Lincoln, including F-35C stealth fightersnaval aviation’s most advanced warplanes.

US aircraft carriers “stand ready to control the seas, conduct strikes, and maneuver across the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. No other naval force has a comparable range and depth of combat capabilities,” a U.S. Navy fact sheet reads.

“In times of crisis, the first question leaders ask is, ‘Where are the carriers?’ ,” the fact sheet reads.

Bauernschmidt says answering this call is a privilege.

“There is absolutely no more humble sense of responsibility than knowing that I have been chosen to lead the men and women who have chosen (to) defend our nation,” she told reporters during from a recent visit to the warship during maneuvers off Japan.

Growing up in Milwaukee, Bauernschmidt knew she had an affinity for the sea. “I’ve always loved the water and swam and rowed competitively,” she says. But joining the navy was more practical than ambitious.

“I fell on my serve in a roundabout way.” she says. “I knew I would pay for my college education and wanted to find a major that not only interested me but would allow me to get a job to pay off my student loans.”

With a strong interest in math and science, and this love of water, she opted to major in ocean engineering.

Only a handful of colleges offered it, the US Naval Academy in Maryland being one. With tuition paid, it was Bauernschmidt’s choice.

But when she arrived on campus in Annapolis, the idea of ​​being the first woman to command an aircraft carrier wasn’t even something she thought possible.

“Absolutely not. I didn’t even realize that was an option when I started this adventure,” says Bauernschmidt.

When she entered the Naval Academy, that was not an option.

It wasn’t until November 1993—six months before Bauernschmidt graduated from that naval academy—that Congress passed legislation allowing women to serve on US Navy combat ships.

This “changed almost everything about women’s service in the Navy,” says Bauernschmidt.

A few months before graduation, Naval Academy midshipmen are allowed to apply for their first postings. Bauernschmidt chose aviation and began the path to his current command.

She learned to fly helicopters, became a flight instructor, deployed on destroyers and aircraft carriers, and eventually commanded a helicopter attack squadron.

She then attended the Naval War College, where she earned a master’s degree in strategic studies before serving in the US Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

After that, Bauernschmidt attended the Navy’s nuclear power school, learning the science and engineering behind naval nuclear power plants in what the Naval Sea Systems Command calls “the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. “.

She would need that knowledge aboard the Lincoln, which is powered by two nuclear reactors, as she became the chief executive, second in command, in 2016.

Almost five years later, after a stint at the helm of the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego, Bauernschmidt took command of the Abraham Lincoln.

“Each new job and each new opportunity has strengthened my leadership and challenged me to be the best version of myself,” says Bauernschmidt.

“I had a phenomenal career where I had incredible opportunities.”

Even the jobs she didn’t really want were opportunities, she says.

“Sometimes you’ll learn the most and grow the most in a situation or job you didn’t want to be in or do.

“Not every job I’ve had in the Navy has been a job I wanted, but I learned and got the most out of every job I could,” Bauernschmidt says.

Although she has risen to a powerful position, Bauernschmidt recognizes the many challenges that women in the Navy still face.

As of Dec. 31, only 20 percent of the Navy’s 342,000 active duty force members are women, according to service demographics.

As a Department of the Navy Gender Relations Survey from February reported, “Social media is full of anecdotes and shared experiences of instances of sexism, discrimination, access to help, reporting and seeking justice for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Clearly there are challenges that must be overcome for meaningful change.

“These are bigger challenges than the military,” says Bauernschmidt. “We are constantly working on improving the sailing environment and programs to support our most important resource – our employees throughout their careers.”

At Bauernschmidt’s rank of captain and above, the Navy’s gender gap is even more stark. Only 13% of those 3,075 officers are women, according to Navy data.

Bauernschmidt therefore feels an added sense of responsibility as the first woman to command an aircraft carrier, but she seems to see it as evolutionary and not revolutionary.

“Although women have achieved a lot, I look forward to the day when we no longer have to celebrate premieres,” she says.

Bauernschmidt says the support she received from the entire Navy community was crucial in bringing her to this deck on one of the greatest warships in the world. And she says she’s still learning now.

“For me, overcoming any challenge starts with ownership – know your job and do your job to the best of your abilities every day. It’s hard to argue with someone who does an exceptional job of supporting the mission and the team,” she says.

The thousands of sailors she leads challenge her and make her grow, she says.

“Leadership is difficult,” says Bauernschmidt.

“To effectively lead a team, department or command, you need to understand the organization and yourself. You have to meet them where they need a leader and you have to know yourself well enough to know how to meet them where they are,” she says.

His advice to his subordinates and to all those who have aspirations: to follow on a daily basis.

“I try not to just finish a task, but to take ownership of the outcome of my work,” she says.

To inspire herself, she quotes an NFL superstar, Arizona Cardinals defensive end JJ Watt: “Success is not owned, it’s rented and rent is due every day. !

Pay that rent and you could end up with one of the rarest jobs in the world: commander of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

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