Speech at Navy Memorial — April 4, 2009

lone-sailor-1988Good afternoon, I am retired Navy Captain Diane Diekman, and my relationship with the Navy Memorial goes back to the time when the Lone Sailor was standing all by himself outside. My greatest day here at the Navy Memorial was my retirement ceremony in 2004. I’d always had a dream of having a retirement ceremony with full dress uniform, with swords and large medals. And it worked out that way. Everybody dressed up for me that day. And if it wasn’t for the Navy, I would be a bashful schoolteacher somewhere in South Dakota, I’m sure.

So I’ll tell you a little bit about my Navy journey that took me from South Dakota to where I am today. I enlisted in the Navy when I graduated from college in 1972 because the women’s officer program was full at the time. I called the recruiter and said I’m ready to enlist. My sister and I had decided we both wanted to join the Navy, and she graduated from high school a year before I graduated from college, so she’d already been in the Navy for a year. So our recruiter enlisted both of us. I became an aviation storekeeper and went down to Pensacola. She was close by at Whiting Field; she was an aviation maintenance administrationman, which was pretty much the same job our mother had had as a World War II WAVE in Hutchinson, Kansas. They took care of aircraft logbooks and records, whereas I took care of aircraft supplies.

My goal when I joined the Navy was to make second class (E-5) in two years, and I did that. My sister and I made E-5 off the same exam. She put on her crow, and my request chit for officer candidate school had been approved, so I went off to Newport, Rhode Island. By now they’d done away with the women’s program, and I went through real OCS with the men. I learned how to drive ships and had classes with all the men. Quite unlike my enlisted basic training, where I had learned the nine types of naval correspondence, how to fold towels in equal thirds, that ladies always wear lipstick, and it was unladylike to run.

By the time I got to OCS, I had to run, and it was really rough. The only way I passed the test was with my classmates’ encouragement of “You can do it, Diane! You can do it!” And I did pass.

At that time in 1975, the only line officer jobs available for women were communications and administration. I went to Oklahoma City and was in charge of enlistment tests for the state of Oklahoma. While I was there, the Navy opened up some of the restricted line designators to women, and I said, “Oh, now I can get back into aviation and I can be a maintenance officer.” I thought I’d have to kind of slide into it by getting orders to a squadron as the admin officer, work topside in admin for awhile, and then convince the commanding officer to let me move downstairs to maintenance. But my detailer called me up and asked, “How would you like to go to maintenance officer school, followed by a training squadron in Kingsville, Texas?”

And I said, “Wow! How did you do that?”

And he said, “Well, your good fitness reports and a lot of sweet-talking on my part.”

Okay, so, after my training squadron tour, I did a sea duty patrol squadron tour out of Jacksonville, Florida, and then I worked in three intermediate maintenance departments. In Norfolk I was the maintenance material control officer. Then I had my own AIMD over on Guam for two years, and while I was there, I made commander and was selected for my major AIMD–which for maintenance officers is the equivalent of the pilots being selected for command of a squadron. So I went to Jacksonville, Florida, for that tour.

Up to this point I had avoided staff duty. I wanted to be a leader, I wanted to have Sailors working for me, and I wanted to be out in the fleet. But after my major AIMD, it was time to become a staff officer because I’d gotten too senior for those other jobs. So I came to Washington DC to the Naval Supply Systems Command as their maintenance officer, and it was tough at first. It was the first time in more than twenty years that I didn’t have anybody working for me, and I had to build my own job because I didn’t relieve anybody, so there was no job to take over; I had to make it from scratch. Sometimes I would think, could I still even be a leader? I had 650 Sailors working for me in Jacksonville and now I had nobody, and I wondered if I’d lost the touch. I wondered if I had a job like that, could I do it again?

But things got better. I asked my Supply Corps boss what he wanted me to do, and he said, “I want you to be my expert in maintenance.” I took that as permission to travel. I knew about aviation maintenance; I didn’t know anything about shipboard maintenance or submarine maintenance. So by the end of that tour, I had been to every ship repair facility in the Navy, every major supply facility in the Navy, every major aviation repair facility and submarine repair facility all over the world in the Navy. That was also when the Navy was getting into regional maintenance, so I did make my mark in that job, eventually.

I got selected for captain there and went to Japan. When my detailer told me he wanted to send me to Japan, I said, “Well, if I have to move somewhere, I might as well move all the way to Japan.” He said he really appreciated my refreshing attitude, because the men who had been–there were five of us selected for five specific jobs–and the men were whining and crying that they couldn’t go to Japan, they couldn’t go to this job, they’d end up getting divorced, this wouldn’t work, that wouldn’t work. And I said, “My goodness, if the Navy makes you a captain, it seems to me you ought to go where the jobs are. Otherwise, don’t take the promotion; let it go to somebody who appreciates it.”

Anyway, I had a great three years in Japan. Then I got selected for a major command. Oh, while I was in Japan, I started writing books. I’d been working on my story of growing up in South Dakota for awhile, and in 1996 I finished the first draft of A Farm in the Hidewood. Then in 1997 I did the first draft of Navy Greenshirt. I knew when I started this book it was going to begin with maintenance officer school and it was going to end when I made captain. So it doesn’t cover my enlisted service or my job in Oklahoma City, and it doesn’t cover the seven years I did as captain before I retired.

So then I moved to Los Angeles, and I was in command of a Defense Contract Management Agency. I had 350 civilians working for me there, and I had a little Air Force flight operation. So that was pretty special for a maintenance officer to be in charge of a flight operation and have aviators working for me. While I was in Los Angeles, I self-published the two books I had been working on for awhile, that I had written in Japan and revised four times.

And I also became a mother. I had decided years earlier–I had turned the idea of a family over to God. I said, “Lord, if you ever want me to have a husband and/or children, please send them to me in your good time.” Well, he hasn’t sent me a husband yet, but he did send my daughters to me in Los Angeles. I went through foster-adopt training, and I was matched up with a pair of sisters who were five and seven. Amanda is a seventh grader now, and April is a sophomore in high school. She’s going to school in South Dakota, and she’ll be home next week for Easter.

diekman-retirement-2004We moved here from Los Angeles, and my last tour in the Navy was at the Washington Navy Yard on the staff of the Naval Inspector General. When we got here, I knew I would be retiring out of that job. I retired in 2004, and since I didn’t have anyone to tell me where to move to next, we’re still here.

My first project after I retired was to finish the biography I’d been working on, on country music singer Faron Young, who had committed suicide several years before that. Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story was published in 2007. I’m now working on the biography of Marty Robbins, another country music singer from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Some of you might have heard of “El Paso,” which was his most famous song.

I also teach Mary Kay skin care, and I do real estate investment, turning some of those empty houses that you see into homes for people to live in again. And that’s where I’ve been for the last so many years. That’s my story. Any questions about any part of it?
Questioner: You mentioned having had a command situation with naval people, and then you had civilians. Was there much of a change going from naval personnel who were supposed to smartly salute and say “Yes, Ma’am,” or did you find that civilians don’t always salute smartly and say “Yes, Ma’am”?
Answer: Civilians were still polite and said “Yes, Ma’am.” They just didn’t salute.
Questioner: Okay. They still thought of you as the boss and it was okay, huh?
Answer: It’s all the same. My philosophy has always been, you treat other people with respect and they treat you with respect. I tried to be a good leader, and the same rules work for everybody.

Questioner: I worked in the Navy Department in the late 60s and I don’t remember a woman officer. So it was interesting to hear you say you were expected to have lipstick on. How did you see the transition of changing to where women were accepted as people rather than women? Or are they?
Answer: It was a long road. People used to always ask me, “Are you an admin officer or a nurse?” And I’d say, “Neither. I’m a maintenance officer.” “Oh, wow, I didn’t know women could be maintenance officers.” We went through the period where I got really tired of all this first-woman business. The first woman to do this. The first woman to do that. I’ve had people tell me, “You’re the best female officer I’ve ever worked for.” I would tell people, “I’m not competing with women; I’m competing with maintenance officers.” And all the maintenance officers were men. In most commands I was the only woman or one of very few.

One Response to “Speech at Navy Memorial — April 4, 2009”

  1. PAstor Zwieg Says:

    Good going Diane!

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