Speech at Navy Birthday Ball 2011

Navy Birthday Ball, Sioux Falls SD, 15 October 2011:

Good evening, happy birthday, it’s great to be with a bunch of Navy people, and to have an opportunity to wear my formal dress uniform again. I didn’t expect that to happen in Sioux Falls, so this is pretty nice.

I’d like to introduce my sister, retired senior chief aviation maintenance administrationman Kayo Paver. When Kayo and I were talking about joining the Navy, back in 1970, it wasn’t something that young women did at the time, and we took a lot of flak for our decision. We knew Mom had enjoyed her time in the Navy as a WAVE during World War II, and we thought it might be a good career.

Kayo enlisted when she graduated from Clear Lake High School in 1971, and her goal was to come home to her 20-year class reunion, retired from the Navy. And she did that. I enlisted a year after she did, when I graduated from Augustana College, and my goal was to make second class in two years–I came in as an E-3 because I already had my degree–and I did that. We both made second class off the same exam, and by that time I had orders to go to officer candidate school.

I got commissioned in 1975, and that’s one pay raise I remember, because E-5 pay at the time was $500, and ensign pay was a thousand. So in one month, my paycheck doubled. It didn’t take very long to get used to it, though. I went to Oklahoma City and rented an apartment and bought a brand new car. My job there–I worked at the AFEES–I was the test control officer, in charge of giving enlistment tests throughout the state of Oklahoma. At the time, Kayo was a Navy recruiter in Colorado Springs, so we were pretty much in the same business.

While I was in Oklahoma City, the Navy opened up some of the restricted line designators to women, and I applied to become an aircraft maintenance officer. So for the remainder of the time that Kayo was in the Navy, we knew a lot of the same people and could talk a lot of the same things and visited some of the same places.

Then Kayo retired in 1991, at twenty, and went home to her class reunion. A year later, when I went over twenty–I was the AIMD officer at Jacksonville at the time–I invited all my chiefs and officers from AIMD to go to the officers’ club, so that we could celebrate the completion of the first half of my naval career. And then the next day, the chiefs took me to the CPO club to celebrate the beginning of the second half.

I didn’t quite make forty, and I knew I wouldn’t, but it was a good 32 years, anyway. There were two things I did not like about the Navy. The main thing was the urinalysis program. I so looked forward to turning 25, because back then it was only for those under 25. And then, a few months before my 25th birthday, the Navy changed the rules and made urinalysis mandatory for everybody. So I had to put up with that program for almost 30 years after that. And one time I almost got put on report for it.

I was MMCO at Norfolk, and one day my number came up, and I went in and signed the paper and picked up my little bottle. The observer I recognized as a young sailor I had retained in the Navy two years earlier. She had come before my admin discharge board, and I’d given her the benefit of the doubt, and now she was a master-at-arms. I was thinking that she was gloating. She didn’t give any indication that she knew who I was, but my body just locked up, and I finally told her this won’t work. I figured that’s no big deal to miss one urinalysis.

Sometime after that, I came out of the head in the middle of one afternoon, and there was the admin chief standing there waiting for me, and he said, “Commander, your number came up today.” I said, “Well thanks for telling me! That’s not going to happen by five o’clock.” I just went home at the end of the day, and I thought he could explain why he hadn’t told me earlier.

Then I got a call to report to the office of the NAS XO. The XO told me I was setting a poor leadership example by not supporting the urinalysis program. I said of course I support it; these were the only two that I missed. He told me I would give a sample that afternoon, he had the female command chaplain standing by, and if I didn’t, he would write me up on charges for disobeying a lawful order. And then he made me sign a statement that I was giving a voluntary sample.

The other thing I didn’t like about the Navy was the PRT [physical readiness test]. One of the main reasons was the weigh-in. Right now I weigh 10-15 pounds more than the maximum allowable weight for most of the time I was on active duty. The Navy liked skinny women. So that was always a struggle. When they started the PRT, I was a complete non-athlete. I was down in Kingsville, Texas, and I would run out in my neighborhood after dark, because I was embarrassed to have anybody see me run, and I wanted to be sure I could pass the test. I think I passed that test by four seconds or so.

Another time down there when we were scheduled for the PRT, a chief in Meridian died of a heart attack while running the PRT, and that put the whole training command in a tizzy, so our skipper canceled the PRT and we just had the squadron picnic and the keg of beer. We were all happy about that.

The PRT continued to get tougher, and I became a runner, so it was not quite so difficult for me anymore. And then one year in Norfolk, I got one point short of outstanding on the PRT. The PRT coordinator was the QA officer; he was a lieutenant who worked for me. I said, “I only missed it by one point. Couldn’t you have given me one point, so I could have an outstanding?” He looked at me and he said, “Ma’am, you should have done one more sit-up.”

Well, he was right. That was one of the best things anybody ever said to me. After that, I practiced push-ups and sit-ups when the PRT was coming close, and I got an outstanding the next time. I had 22 consecutive outstanding scores by the time I was fifty. I was really looking forward to turning fifty, because PRTs were optional for people over fifty. I thought I’d set enough of a leadership example–22 consecutive outstanding scores. That’s eleven years, and I still ran six miles at lunchtime, so they knew I’m not going to turn into a couch potato. Then, three months before my 50th birthday, the Navy changed the rules, and made the PRT mandatory for all ages. And also, they came up with this stupid scoring system of nine categories; you could get a low outstanding or a medium excellent. So until I retired, I did the PRT every time, but no more outstandings. I had done my time.

I’d like to tell you about the most important leadership lesson I had while I was in the Navy. It’s what gave me backbone; it’s what I consider made me a real leader, although it was kind of a tough experience. When I graduated from AMO school and went to Kingsville, Texas, I really loved being a maintenance officer. I worked hard and I worked my way from material officer up to assistant maintenance officer, and I took maintenance detachments out to El Centro and Key West and Yuma and out on the Lexington. When the maintenance officer went on leave, I thought, great, I get to be acting MO this week. I get to be in charge of the maintenance department. But for the whole week he was gone, the skipper never talked to me. He had the maintenance master chief come brief him every day. I thought, this isn’t right. I’m the acting maintenance officer; he’s supposed to talk to me. But he’s a commander and I’m only a lieutenant, so he knows what he’s doing. He knew what he was doing, all right.

When the MO came back from leave, they had their semi-annual job change meeting, and it was my job as the assistant maintenance officer to move all the division and branch officers around, but I didn’t have a copy of the list. I’d go to the CO’s secretary and ask for it and she wouldn’t give it to me. Finally, after a couple days, she gave me the list, and I looked at it, and the first thing I saw was somebody else’s name by “assistant maintenance officer.” I thought, whoa, this is my job. So I looked for my name, and it was all the way down at the bottom, under material control officer, which was the job I’d had when I checked into the squadron two and a half years earlier.

So I went looking for the maintenance officer, and I said, “Look what the skipper did to me!” He just looked at the paper and he said, “Oh, he did it, huh?” And I said, “You knew? You knew I was being fired and you didn’t tell me? I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong!” He said, “Well, go talk to the CO.” So I went to talk to him, and he wouldn’t tell me either. All he said was, “If you do a decent job as material officer, you’ll get out of the squadron with a decent fitness report.”

I eventually figured out that I had gotten fired for being non-assertive. And that they set me up. When the MO went on leave, it was a test. The skipper wanted to see if I was going to insist that he talk to me. And I failed, so I got fired. I learned two things from that. One is–I’ve fired people myself since then, but I never fired anybody without first telling them what they were doing wrong and giving them a chance to fix it.

The main thing I learned was that I would never let myself or anybody who worked for me be left out of anything, or if I thought we were being mistreated, that I would always stand up for what I thought was right. I’m proud to say I’ve always done that, and it’s worked out well. It was a tough lesson, but it made a difference and it was an important one.

One of the fallouts from my fitness report down in Kingsville was that I didn’t get to go to postgraduate school, because the detailer said he wouldn’t waste a school slot on somebody who’d never make commander. Which turned out to be fine. I stayed out in the fleet with the sailors and the airplanes, and I got two master’s degrees with the GI Bill at night school, and I did make commander. I had my major AIMD, which was in Jacksonville, and I was one of the fifty percent on the list who got selected for captain, and I got selected for major command–a defense contract management agency in Los Angeles.

While I was in Los Angeles, I became a mother at age fifty, when I adopted a pair of sisters who were five and seven at the time. Now, April is a freshman at Augustana and Amanda is a sophomore at Roosevelt High School. We moved from Los Angeles to Washington DC, and I retired in 2004 from the staff of the Naval Inspector General.

By that time I had already self-published two memoirs–a book about growing up on a farm by Clear Lake and a book about my Navy career. I spent the year after I retired finishing writing the biography of Faron Young. That was published in 2007, and in February of next year, my biography of Marty Robbins will be published.

A year ago this last summer, the girls and I moved from Maryland back here to South Dakota, and we are loving living in Sioux Falls.

Go Navy! Happy Birthday!

–CAPT Diane Diekman, USN (ret)

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