Trailblazing Admiral instructs sea cadets in leadership

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A retired U.S. Navy rear admiral who navigated around restrictions women once faced in the military urged Sea Cadets gathered Saturday in Redwood City to create their own opportunities, offering advice from her own life about how to transform setbacks into success.

Speaking Feb. 3 during an annual inspection ceremony for the city’s unique U.S. Naval Sea Cadet unit, Rear Admiral Bonnie Potter, who is a physician, described her disappointment in 1975 when she came on active duty as a lieutenant and was told that she could not go to sea. She’d wanted to follow the path of her father, who had served the country in World War II.

“I thought, if I can’t go to sea, what else can I do?” she told the young people, their families and friends during the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps Band of the West Division’s inspection ceremony and performance. The event was held at American Legion Post 105, one of the sponsors for the nation’s first and only Sea Cadet band.

Potter described how she focused on becoming the best she could be in her Naval assignments, which included a tour as Chief of Medicine/Residency Program Director at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and as Director of Medical Services for the USNS Comfort during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In 1997, she was promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first female physician in the military to be selected to for “flag” rank.

Potter, who received her second star in 1999, retired in 2003 and is active with the Navy League.

Among the keys to success, she told the cadets, is to look for opportunities and not to allow the possibility of failure to hold them back.  People who aren’t necessarily “born leaders” can still be great leaders but need to continually assess their own strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s not a destination,” Potter said.  “It’s a journey. I still work on being a leader.”

Demonstrating how times have changed, two female cadets – Samantha Wen and Jenna Ghaddar – were pinned as chief petty officers, a rank achieved by only about two percent of all cadets.  Both are Aragon High School students.

The 48-member Band of the West is a unit of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a national youth program which develops skills in leadership, musicianship, basic seamanship, courage, self-reliance and discipline. Sea Cadets have opportunities to attend trainings conducted nationwide, which are supported by the U.S. military, in career fields such as cyberwarfare, STEM, aviation, medicine, law, engineering and more.

The band, which was commissioned in 2013, has steadily grown and does about 20 performances a year for veterans, military personnel and their families. During Saturday’s ceremony, the band paid musical tribute to Band Officer John Evans, who died in January.

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