A first class petty officer assigned to the San Diego-based guided missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) was named as a recipient of the calendar year 2013 Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian Leadership Award.
Rear Admiral Barbara Sweredoski, Reserve Deputy, Military Personnel Plans and Policy, (right) congratulates Yeoman 1st Class Shanika Jones on her selection as recipient of the Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian Leadership Award. (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
Yeoman 1st Class (SW) Shanika D. Jones, a native of Albany, Ga., and a 15-year Navy veteran, has been recognized as the winner of the junior enlisted category for the prestigious female leadership award.
The announcement of Jones’ selection for the award came via official naval message as part of the Navy’s efforts to recognize the contributions of female service members during Women’s History Month. The theme of this year’s observance is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.”
“I joined the military because I didn’t want to become a statistic,” said Jones, who is a 1998 graduate of Monroe Comprehensive High School in Albany, Ga. “I became a single mother at the age of 17 and at that age you don’t know what you are doing and I didn’t want to become that person back home on welfare waiting on a check.”
Having been a part of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) in high school and having two uncles who served in the Army, she said the Navy wasn’t her first choice but was glad her JROTC instructor steered her in that direction.
“I initially joined the Navy to do four years and go back to school,” said Jones. “I was going to join and get my GI bill benefits and get out but I finished my degree in 17 months while on active duty. They gave me orders to Diego Garcia and I thought I would try that out and before I knew it I had 10 years of service.”
Jones, who joined the Navy in 1998 as a cryptologic technician (administrative) and later became a yeoman as the result of the Oct. 1, 2007 rating merger, served at several shore duty stations in Florida, Diego Garcia and Bahrain before becoming a Navy recruiter.
“When I got to recruiting duty everyone asked me who my mentor was,” said Jones. “I told them I didn’t need one, but after a few hiccups and even an NJP [non-judicial punishment] I found one and made a round turn at that command.”
Jones said it was during this time she met Senior Chief Navy Career Counselor Katrina Foster, Senior Chief Navy Career Counselor Dwayne Benjamin and now retired Chief Electrican’s Mate Tim Curry.
“Those three chiefs helped mold me into the leader that I am today,” said Jones. “There were some hard times because they would be tough on me, but I loved it, and they showed me the type of chief and leader I want to be.”
Jones eventually excelled at being a Navy recruiter and was even advanced to the rank of petty officer first class through the command advancement program while assigned to Navy Recruiting District Miami.
“When the Sailors would come back from boot camp and thank me for helping get them in the Navy it meant a lot and kept me motivated,” said Jones. “I would even have parents call or come by to tell me I had somehow managed to get their son or daughter to do in eight weeks what they had been trying to do for years.”
When she received orders to Mobile Bay it was the first time she had the opportunity to serve on board a Navy ship. After checking on board, she quickly earned her enlisted surface warfare specialist pin and other shipboard qualifications.
“I didn’t feel like a Sailor until I got to a ship,” said Jones, who now has three children and a fiancée who supports her naval career. “I regret not coming to sea duty earlier in my career. When the ship pulled out on that first deployment and there was nothing around, I thought ‘I really am a Sailor’ for the first time.”
In addition to managing the ship’s administrative department during the most recent deployment, she has held numerous collateral duties on board Mobile Bay including career counselor, security manager and Morale Welfare and Recreation president in addition to currently serving as the ship’s mess decks master-at-arms.
When it comes to leading and managing junior Sailors, Jones said she has an aggressive approach but makes it her business to help them develop an individual plan for both long and short-term success.
“I’m constantly pushing them,” said Jones. “I remind them that they told me they wanted to do something and ask them what they have done to get to that goal.”
Mobile Bay’s senior leadership describe Jones as a consummate professional, model Sailor and a highly-valued member of the community and command.
“Petty Officer Jones has continued to excel since reporting on board, most importantly taking advantage of the opportunities available on sea duty,” said Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Ernest M. Belmares, Mobile Bay’s senior enlisted leader. “She is respected command wide.”
According to Belmares, Jones was nominated for the award based on her superior leadership during the past year not only in her rate, but also in a variety of other positions including damage control training, duty section management and serving as the ship’s mess decks master-at-arms.
Belmares also said Jones demonstrates the values of character, courage and commitment on a daily basis. This was evident when her peers elected her as the president the ship’s 40-member first class petty officers mess earlier this year.
“She is approachable, honest and fair. Most importantly, she leads by example both on and off duty,” said Belmares. “She always makes time for her shipmates.”
Master Chief Yeoman Anna Der-Vartanian, the trail-blazer for whom the award is named, was the first female in the armed services to achieve the rank of E-9 when she was advanced to the rank of master chief petty officer in 1959.
A native of Detroit, Der-Vartanian served a brief period in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) to support World War II before joining the Navy as part of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program in December 1943.
After completing Navy basic training, Der-Vartanian served in a variety of administrative and clerical positions in Washington DC, Great Lakes, Ill., and San Francisco. In 1946 she was advanced to the rank of chief yeoman.
Der-Vartanian was serving as assistant to the Global Strategy Officer at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., in 1959 at the time of her advancement to master chief and received a personal letter from then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower congratulating her on her accomplishment.
After retiring from the Navy in 1963, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a junior analyst and worked her way up to counterintelligence specialist. In 1991 she retired from the CIA, but returned to work as a contract employee until 2007.
Der-Vartanian died Aug. 4, 2011 at the age of 90 and was laid to rest Nov. 28 with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery among a crowd of hundreds of Sailors, family and friends who came to honor one of the Navy’s leaders who helped integrate women into the military at all levels.
Mobile Bay is currently undergoing a CNO’s Selected Restricted Availability in the BAE Shipyard San Diego after returning from a deployment in April 2013 and completion of eight months of follow-on sustainment operations. The ship is assigned to Commander, Carrier Strike Group Three as part of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Group.