Lieutenant Lori Dague graduated from the Naval Academy in 1994. In February,
1999 we spoke with Lieutenant Dague while she was serving as one of 245 women out of a total
crew of 5,000 on the U.S.S. Enterprise aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. Lieutenant
Dague is a Communication Security Material Systems Officer and also stands watch as a Tactical
Action Officer. Find out her thoughts on women in the military, and life aboard an aircraft carrier.
NOVA: What made you want to serve in the Navy?
DAGUE: My family, I would say, my parents probably most of all. I am from a
pretty patriotic family. My grandfather was a pilot in the Air Force. I didn't
ever meet him, but my Dad talked a lot about him.
NOVA: What is it like to be a woman working among so many men? Is it ever
DAGUE: It is always challenging, but I think that is on both sides. And I'm not
being flip, because I get asked that a lot. I haven't ever been a man going
through it, so it is hard to say what the difference is for any of us, but I
think it is challenging for everybody. And rewarding too. For a lot of the
ships and the combatants, there hasn't been that many years that women have
been on them. I think mostly it is just about awareness, mutual respect, and
finding common denominators. What's important is the Navy standard, not what
the man standard or what the woman standard is. I think we are doing a pretty
good job of that.
NOVA: What is challenging about it, specifically?
Aboard the aircraft carrier Independence, Lt. Schnurr is the only woman.
DAGUE: It is challenging just being in the Navy. The work that we do is 24 and
seven. Most of us are on watch schedules that probably have us standing watch
six to eight hours a day, and that is aside from our normal job. So to try to
find any time for sleep, recreation or personal time, or to have a little
privacy is very difficult. A lot of times our minds are just so focused on
keeping our heads above water with the job that we are trying to do—that is
where the challenge really lies.
NOVA: What do you think about the idea that was put forward last summer in
Congress that gender training was distracting for men and women and should be
DAGUE: I am totally for integrated training. That is the way we are going to
fight and that is the way we are going to do our job, and we have to train that
way. If we make it an unusual thing for men and women to work together as we
train, how much more unusual will it be for them to get to the fleet and learn
to work together? When people hit the fleet, hit the ship, we need them to hit
the deck running and be ready to go and not have to take more adjustment time.
I think to segregate is to say there is something unusual about us, and we
don't trust you to learn and get the job done. I think when we integrate we
teach each other so much more—that it is possible to work together and, hey,
even succeed. At the Academy, we were about 10 percent women. In my class, there were
36 individuals, three women and 33 guys, and we went through all four years. To
me it was kind of odd at first, coming from the civilian world, but by the time
I got to my ship, I was used to those kinds of percentages. I was used to
working side by side with guys and they were used to working with me. We
learned that we could do that.
NOVA: Have you ever encountered any prejudice?
DAGUE: Not blatant. I think you can always see things in people's faces. For me
to say that I have never seen that would be a lie. I have. But I have never
seen it blatantly, and honestly, you can't change how people think. But as long
as it doesn't affect the job that I am doing, that is all that I want. And I
think most men and women that I work with want to be recognized for the job
that they do.
NOVA: Would it be easier if the ratio were more even?
Jennifer Keefer trains to become a plane "handler," or "yellow shirt."
DAGUE: I think that we really have to be careful and not just pick a number and
say that this would work better if we had this many men and this many women. I
think what we need to keep remembering is that we have a set of standards and a
set of qualifications that are going to make our military successful. Here is
the bar. This is what you have to get over to qualify and to be a part of the
Navy. If you make it over this bar and you have these qualifications, it
doesn't matter if you are male or female. So I think to answer "yes" would be
kind of misleading, because I really believe we need to get away from setting
quotas or numbers. We only want the most qualified people out here.
NOVA: Do you think there are any areas where a woman shouldn't be serving, for
example, on a submarine?
DAGUE: I think my answer to that goes along with what I just said. If somebody
meets the standards then they should be in. We can't lower our standards
because someone says, "oh, I think we need to lower our standards so this group
of people can be in." I think that is wrong and we would only be deceiving
ourselves and letting down the quality of our military. If they meet the
standards, why should they not be in it?
NOVA: Do you think there are different ways that men and women handle the same
kind of situation?
Women make up 6 percent of the population aboard the aircraft carrier USS Stennis.
DAGUE: Yes, I think that's true. When I was back at the Academy, we
participated in a leadership challenge in the summer when we first got there.
We had to figure out as a team all the different challenges we had on the
obstacle course. Sometimes it would be sheer strength. And of course the
biggest guy was pretty much the one leading the way there and helping out. And
then there might be something where it took a small person to crawl through a
small hole to get over to attach a rope, or something like that. So every
situation is going to call for something different, and I think that men and
women do tend to think differently. When you bring in a diversity of thought or
maybe a new approach to a problem, you are going to introduce new solutions you
didn't see before.
NOVA: Do you think an integrated military is a better military?
DAGUE: Definitely. To say we only want one thing one way, we are limiting
NOVA: What are your long-term goals for serving in the military? Do you have a
target you are reaching for?
DAGUE: Well, I never have, and a lot of people always thought that was so
strange. For me, I really believe in focusing on the here and now and doing the
best job I can. As an officer, it is definitely my job to help look out for the
people that I am in charge of. Obviously you have your eye on the next job you
are going to do, or the next higher level you can attain, and how you can be
working toward that goal. But I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son and he is
really my priority so I am looking forward to getting home on shore duty for a
couple of years and spending time with my husband and my son.
NOVA: Are you able to communicate with them while you are on the carrier?
The arrival of mail aboard an aircraft carrier is a much-anticipated event.
DAGUE: We have e-mail. So it has been a great thing that the fleet has obtained
e-mail in the past couple of years. It really helps morale a lot—sailors
being able to write home to their wives, husbands or children. It has just been
a great blessing on the ship.
NOVA: It sounds like a tough job.
DAGUE: It is. A lot of times you will hear people say a carrier is like a
floating city. We have almost 5,000 people here on board. You never meet
everybody. We've got nuclear reactors on board. An entire engineering
department. We've got people running a flight deck and we've got 75 aircraft
taking off and landing unbelievably close to each other in all kinds of
weather. We've got people driving the ship and keeping us from colliding. We've
got people running supplies. Everything from a barber's shop, vending machines,
to dispersing, taking care of pay. It is really phenomenal to see all the
things that go on every day. And just remember why we do what we do. That is
something important for me. Every day I miss my family, I miss my son, but I
try to remember why I am doing this. It is for the things that we believe in.
We want more for our families. We believe in freedom. We believe in God,
country and family. I think most people out here feel that way. We don't always
like what we do but we believe in why we did it and we believe the oath that we
took to serve.