WESTERN PACIFIC – When people learn about Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, they learn of his heroic actions as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, of his remarkable accomplishment as the Navy’s first aviator to travel at Mach 2, of his actions as commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, or of the transformations he introduced as Chief of Naval Personnel.
Few may realize that his greatest legacy may be for women’s rights.
A passionate supporter of the cause, Lawrence helped lay the foundation for future generations of Navy women.
As Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from August 1978 to August 1981, Lawrence endeavored to achieve gender equality and oversaw the commission of the first female midshipmen in 1980.
"It is my observation that the women actually raised standards at the Naval Academy because of their example of maturity, intelligence, professionalism, dedication and toughness,” said Lawrence. “By being closely associated with women, our male midshipmen are developing into leaders with greater depth and human understanding."
His leadership and legacy propelled women into successful Navy careers, including his youngest daughter, Capt. Wendy B. Lawrence (Ret.), who graduated in 1981 and later became the first woman Naval Academy graduate to travel into outer space.
"Every day, my father worked hard to provide everyone under his command with opportunities to advance and be successful in their Navy careers," said Capt. Lawrence (Ret.). The servicewomen aboard USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), strive to uphold his legacy of female leadership and are honored to represent their ship’s namesake.
“When I first joined, my grandparents told me that women aren’t supposed to be in the Navy,” said Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class (SW) Anaysa Huizar, remembering her first memories after enlisting. “They’re very traditional. Joining the Navy, I felt like I was stepping out of my family’s ideals of a woman. When I took the oath, it kind of hit me—I’m actually doing something significant, something different.”
Huizar’s identity as a woman in the Navy hasn’t phased her, and she has embraced every challenge and leadership opportunity. She was selected as Junior Sailor of the Year in 2015, is a work center supervisor and sexual assault prevention victim advocate, and is the only woman on William P. Lawrence’s visit, board, search and seizure team. Her success has also brought valuable leadership lessons.
“You have to learn to follow first, then you can lead,” said Huizar. “You have to learn how to listen to your peers—take their advice, concerns and opinions in order to set the tone in the work center.”
Personnel Specialist Seaman Bethany Akosa, who was recently selected as Blue Jacket of the Quarter after only five months on board, is still learning what it means to be a female leader in the Navy.
“[Being a leader] means taking the initiative, producing results,” said Akosa. “A leader leads by example or demonstration, not necessarily by instruction. For that reason they tend to stand out from the norm in a positive manner.”
Another female Sailor who leads by example is Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 2nd Class (SW) Robin Poehls, whose positive energy and work ethic is contagious. She is the only female on the damage control training team and the first woman to serve as the ship’s oil king.
“Being a woman in the Navy is definitely difficult, because most of the jobs are based around men, especially engineering jobs,” said Poehls. “The ship never had a female oil king until I got here. It feels awesome meeting people looking for the oil king and they come to me and say, ‘it’s you? Really?’”
These remarkable women continue to inspire the next generation of William P. Lawrence leaders through their example and guidance.
“It’s my duty to teach the junior women Sailors. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of doing the job,” said Poehls. “We’re showing that everyone can do it.”
Huizar, Akosa, and Poehls represent just a fraction of the women leaders aboard William P. Lawrence and across our Navy. Every day they honor the legacy Lawrence built and strengthen it for their shipmates and for future generations of servicewomen. Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia Pacific, William P. Lawrence, commanded by Cmdr. Walter C. Mainor, is operating as part of the John C. Stennis Strike Group and Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled 7th Fleet deployment.
For more information, please visit www.lawrence.navy.mil or www.facebook.com/usswilliamplawrence.