Friday, April 1, 2016

"80s Night" Celebrates 40 Years of Women at USNA

The U.S. Naval Academy hosted returning graduates March 29 at the Naval Academy Alumni Association's Ogle House to celebrate Women's History Month and the 40th anniversary of women attending the academy.

The event, entitled "80s Night" brought more than 60 female graduates from the 1980s back to Annapolis to share their memories and experiences with current midshipmen.

As midshipmen prepare to join a military where all areas of service are now open to women, this event provided an opportunity to network and bond with the women who came before them.

Sharon Disher, USNA Class of 1980, addresses the guests at "80"s Night"

"It's so important that these girls know they have a support network," said Sharon Disher, who graduated with the first class of women in 1980. "We are here to help them morally, mentally, emotionally and physically, even if they just need a hug. We want to share their trials and triumphs."

For many of the women at the event, it was a chance to help prevent the kind of isolation they felt as midshipmen.

"We felt a strong pull to be seen as fitting in, so felt discouraged from connecting with too many of the other women and supporting one another," said Stefanie Goebel, also Class of 1980.

Pam Corwin, who graduated in 1983, shared that desire to fit in. Her time with the sailing team helped, she said.

"Being on on a co-ed team provided some normalcy," she said. "Often on my way to class, tourists would stop me and ask to take a photo because I was a woman mid. I always refused because I didn't want to stand out. I just wanted to be another midshipman."

But Corwin, like many of her classmates, values what her experiences at the academy and in the fleet taught her.

It "made me very strong, driven, determined ... a better leader, manager, parent, decision maker," she said. "I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I would do it all again."

The first female midshipmen arrived with the Class of 1980 on Induction Day July 6, 1976. Four years later, 55 women from that class graduated. Since then, more than 4,600 women have graduated from the Naval Academy. The most recent graduating class included 204 women, and the current plebe class boasts the largest number of women in any service academy's history with 324.

With the removal of gender-based restrictions on military service, women can now serve in all combat roles, including in the Marine infantry and Navy SEALS.

"The opportunities [women] have in the Navy today are so much greater than what was available in the 80s. I didn't dream of flying a fighter or driving a combatant or a submarine because it wasn't even a glimmer of a possibility," said Corwin. "The fact that [they] aspire to do these things and then go on to do them ... is so important to the continual and never ending path to equality for all."

And the current midshipmen continue to impress their mentors.

"It's heartening and gratifying to see the caliber of women here," said Disher. "It makes everything we went through worth it."

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