Darlene Iskra

My name is Commander Darlene M. Iskra, United States Navy, retired. I am a member of Denver's VFW Post 1. I served in the Navy from 1979 to 2000, when opportunities for women were growing quickly.Darlene Iskra

I took advantage of everything I could...the first order of business was to become a Diving Officer, one of the first three women officers to do so. My first assignment was as the diving officer on USS Hector (AR-7), a World War 2 vintage repair ship. Homeported in San Francisco Bay, my crew of 8 divers were the only diving locker in Northern California, and did many repairs and hull inspections on Navy ships stationed in Alameda, Mare Island, and Oakland. We also deployed to the western Pacific, including Yokosuka, Japan, Philippines, Melbourne, Australia, Nairobi, Kenya, Aukland, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa as well as a two month stint in Diego Garcia tending ships serving in the Arabian Gulf. That tour was followed by shore duty as an instructor in San Diego, but as soon as more ships opened to women in the mid-1980s, I requested a transfer.

My Operations Officer tour was on the USS Grasp (ARS-51), and I was on her during her pre-commisioning and through her first year of commissioned service. I was selected for Executive Officer afloat, and served on two different ships in a split tour, first on the USS Preserver (ARS-8) and then USS Hoist (ARS-40). I was selected for Commanding Officer afloat in 1990, and reported for duty on the USS Opportune (ARS-41) on December 27, 1990, in Naples, Italy. Seventeen days after I took command we were underway in support of Operation Desert Storm. I am proud to say that I was the first woman to command a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy! While in command the ship also participated in Hurricane Andrew relief operations in Miami, Florida, and towed numerous decommissioned vessels to the inactive ships shipyards, among other things. My tour lasted 26 months, and then it was shore duty for the remainder of my 21 years of service.

The Navy changed my life. It gave my life purpose and sense of honor. My tour on the USS Hector was probably the most exciting, because everything was new, including women serving on ships! While we were deployed I had the opportunity to work a propeller replacement on a DDG pierside in Yokosuka harbor. It was a joint effort between the ship and the shipyard, but we were in charge!

Being in command was also a thrill, especially sitting on the bridge while the ship is underway and doing its job. And diving was always fun, though potentially dangerous. After the Navy I was able to use the Montgomery GI Bill to go to graduate school and get my Ph.D. in Sociology with the specialty areas of Military Sociology and Gender, Work, and Family. I taught for about 10 years, and wrote two books about women in the military. I also edited two books for the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and have a few other publications, and I am a motivational speaker.

Without my service in the Navy, I would never have had any of these opportunities.


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