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  • I mentioned in my first story about the Dixie what a major culture shock it was. Going from a dynamic nuclear powered aircraft carrier to a world war two destroyer tender with out of date equipment wasn't the only factor. There was also a woman officer to deal with. And not just any officer. She was my officer.

    Ensign Corrine McConkle was part of a Navy experiment in 1979 of assigning female officers to non-combatant ships in the Pacific fleet. There were two female officers aboard, one assigned to the Repair Department, the other assigned to engineering. Corrine was my Electrical Division officer.

    To say this was a culture shock is an understatement. Traditionally, women on ships is considered a bad omen among sailors. When I got to the ship and met my fellow electricians, they were quick to fill me in on how easy it was to "get over" on Ensign McConkle, or "Mom" as they called her. She was trying to be a good naval officer, and failing badly at it.

    Corrine had graduated with a degree in physical education from the California University system, which meant she had little to no education concerning engineering, propulsion, or power systems, which of course is what the Engineering Department does. She had attended on a basketball scholarship, which lasted until her knees gave out, and ended up enrolling in the NROTC program to get enough money to finish her education. As I got to know here, I learned she had little interest in a Naval career. She was serving out her time as an officer to fulfill her commitment for the money she had received.

    The Engineer Officer had about as much use for her as she had for the Navy. He would often call me in to his office to complain about her performance and ask me if there was anything we could do to make her more of an officer. Regrettably, I had a couple of ideas, but they did not involve making friends with her.

    Just the opposite. I found out from my electricians they had actually had her rewiring motor controllers and doing routine maintenance rather than relying on her to do her job. Her job was not to be an Electrician. Her job was to lead. So instead of taking on her responsibilities, as my predecessor had done, I backed off and volunteered as 3-M Inspection Team leader, signed up and qualified as Engine Room Supervisor, and also volunteered as a Fire Team trainer and adviser. This left me enough time to do my job, but not hers.

    The Engineer was not happy with my choices, and Ens. McConkle failed miserably for about three months before realizing no one was going to bail her out. And a funny thing happened. She started acting like an officer. I'd hand in a report, she's call me in to question it. I'd discuss the watch rotation for the electricians, she'd adjust it. Once I handed her an OPTAR report (military lingo for quarterly reporting of financial expenditures) with a couple of deliberate errors on it, and she not only found the errors, but called me in and chewed me out over them.

    By the end of the cruise, we had succeeded in converting a reluctant bystander and outsider to a real live Naval Officer. When she was reassigned and left the ship as 2nd Lt. McConkle, I believe her next assignment was in for a surprise. We didn't part as friends, but I gained a lot of respect for her. And while she may never admit it, I think she realized what had happened.

    I sure hope she is doing well in whatever she finally chose to do.

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