I was sent to another school – programmer/analyst school. I was one of three women in a class of 16. I graduated at the top of the class – honor graduate, as I had every Navy school I attended. I don’t believe the chain of command thought I could do it. I believe they were trying to set me up for failure.
I tutored a majority of the class at my house 3-4 days out of the week. Our class leader, and most, but not all, of the class outranked me. The attrition rate for that school was high. We graduated with 12 out of the 16 who started. Our commanding officer visited us on campus one day and called me aside to address me personally. This isn’t something that is usually done. I was instructed to “throw an exam” because he wanted the class leader to be the honor graduate. I didn’t say a word. I knew this wasn’t a lawful order.
I didn’t obey.
Things only got worse for me after this.
My annual evaluation stated that I wasn’t a team player, had poor leadership skills, and my competency came into question as well……not a team player? Poor leadership skills? Competency? I not only tutored my class, but the classes that came after mine. I volunteered for everything I could, both within in the command and in the community. I flew to Guam to repair a system that I wasn’t assigned to with only a few hours’ notice – a system that the Naval Security Group considered me to be the Navy-wide subject matter expert. I authored tech manuals, wrote test scripts. My GPA in programmer/analyst school – a masters level program, was a 4.0. I made my current rank of E6 the first time I was eligible and as an early candidate. What in the world was going on?
Neither my leadership skills nor my competency were ever called into question, much less my ability to play well with others until I came here. Never. In fact, they were always marked exemplary. I had been a 4.0 sailor on a 4.0 scale. I made rank quickly. I was given leadership roles and sought out for my technical skills – on a beeper 24/7 in case I was needed at a moment’s notice. And, I often, was. Often those moments came in the middle of the night.
Now, I was nothing. Less than nothing. I began to second guess myself. I was rarely given anything to code and on the occasion that I was, I was given little to no direction…why did the code need to be changed? What problem was I correcting or what was the exact functionality I was adding?
Twice I received awards. One was handed to me at my desk and one in the hallway, while others were recognized at command-wide award ceremonies.
I was afraid to do anything. I began to believe that I was the problem. That I was unworthy. That I was incompetent. Everyone else around me seemed to have purpose and to understand what was expected, but I was afraid. No. I was terrified.
I had been successfully gaslighted. And, I was drowning in despair.
I started seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression.
When I asked for the duty driver to take me to my appointments, the commanding officer refused, and in the same breath ordered the driver to go on a donut run. Not kidding whatsoever – donuts.
I was told to walk to my appointments, and so I did. It was a few miles round trip plus an hour-long appointment. I was written up for being gone from my appointed place of duty for too long.
The psychiatrist gave me permission to walk to and from the appointments in work out clothes….PT gear. When my supervisor saw this, I was written up for being out of uniform. So, I started walking in uniform again. When it rained on me and my uniform was soaked, I got written up again.
I couldn’t win. I just couldn’t.
These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. I endured abuse every day. Every. Single. Day.
I filed an EEO complaint. It sat for months before it was processed and then I was bribed into withdrawing it.
I started walking in my sleep. I started talking in my sleep. I started dissociating. I started taking prescribed psychotropic medications.
I had friends at a tenant command on base. He was a Navy Chief, she was a SSGT in the Marine Corps. His name was Joe. Hers, Shari.
Joe gave Shari permission to drive me to and from my appointments. When my command found out, someone, I don’t know who, called Joe and told him that under no circumstances would Shari or anyone else drive me to or from my appointments. Joe gave that person a piece of his mind. He stood up to whomever it was and for me. Shari was my ride. Finally, I had transportation to and from my appointments.
What did my supervisor do next?
HUMP HER ON YOUR BACK
Knowing I didn’t have a driver’s license, he assigned me to drive a new incoming sailor from the airport and to help her check into the command. He assigned me as her sponsor. This is something the Navy does for new incoming personnel, but never, at any command I had ever served, had I ever been told I had to sponsor someone because each command knew that I didn’t drive. I didn’t keep it a secret. It never adversely affected my performance evaluations or my relationships with my subordinates, my peers, or my superiors.
When I asked him how I was supposed to accomplish it…? He told me, “Hump her on your back for all I care!” Again, setting me up for failure.
I endured these microaggressions, microassaults, gaslighting, and blatant abuse from SO MANY and they attacked me daily and often lied and tried to pit others against me. I still have the paperwork I filed with the executive officer outlining everything that was happening. I was told that people were afraid to work with me and when I asked who in particular, so I could rectify the situation, I was given names, only to have each of those people look at me with blank stares and then one-by-one pull me aside to tell me that they had never said any such thing.
Fraternization was out of control. My supervisor was on a first name basis with the chiefs, division officers, and department heads. And, he let me know it. There were even times that some of the other women in the command joined in – I believe mostly out of self-preservation because there were so few of us and it was easy to see what was happening to me – someone who tried to stand up. I falsely believed that the women would be my allies.
I was shuffled around a lot – from one division to another and back again. Even from department to department. I was the problem. At one point I worked for a wonderful man, Bob, who was my sounding board. He witnessed what was happening and asked for me to help him – he gave me the lead on a large project. He trusted me and I vowed not to let him down. When the project was over and a success, I was moved again. Still, my performance evaluation suffered.
It wasn’t until one day while the department head, a commander, lied right to my face in front of a Captain, who at the time, was a lieutenant. The young lieutenant took me by the hand, pulling me out the door of the office, and said, “She works for me, now.” He had witnessed the way I had been treated and had enough. He knew I was being lied to, again. And, he was in a position to do something about it. He was putting himself at risk for me – he was junior to the commander.
He allowed me to work at my own pace, attend my doctor’s appointments and take care of myself above all else because by this time, I was damaged. Damaged beyond immediate repair. By this time, if I wasn’t crying at my computer, I would fall asleep at it, with my hands still on the keys. I’d take naps during lunch breaks. Sometimes I’d grab a piece of paper and just doodle. Eventually, among the depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I was diagnosed with a sleep disorder – Period Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), but my depression ran deep. And, so did the damage.
I was soon discharged by the Navy. Why?
Because I was at the end of my contract and was found fit for duty by a medical board, but unfit for reenlistment by my doctors. I believe wholeheartedly that my doctors had my best interests in mind, but I don’t believe the medical board did. Had the medboard found me unfit, my discharge would have been characterized as a medical retirement. My discharge was honorable, but without the benefits of someone who retires.
They found a loophole…..
And, just like that, my career was over.
I was lost for many years.
It took intense therapy for me to realize that my career did not define me.
I am strong.
I am enough.
I am worthy.
Read Part 1