Thursday, May 14, 2015

Women Who Inspire: Interview with Kristin (Reynolds) Goodrich


For those of you new to my blog, I periodically post interviews with my Naval Academy classmates under the heading, Women Who Inspire. My novels feature a strong female protagonist, so I like to offer examples of the real deal.

Kristin Goodrich is like so many of my other interviewees--women who are exceedingly modest, who've done amazing things, and yet, wonder why I'm asking them for an interview, insisting their experiences were nothing out of the ordinary. Typical . . .


Kristin (Reynolds) Goodrich graduated with a Bachelor of Science in History and a minor in Spanish from the U. S. Naval Academy. She reported to Naval Station Panama Canal  to serve in a Public Affairs Officer’s billet, which included supporting Operation Just Cause. Following her tour in Panama, she reported to Fleet Activities Okinawa, Japan, where she served as training officer, and then port services officer/officer in charge of White Beach. Her final tour brought her back to the U. S. Naval Academy to work in the Admissions Department.  Kristin has served as a Blue and Gold Officer  for the last twenty-one years. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband (a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel) and three children.

AW: You have a fascinating story that starts well before you arrived at the Naval Academy. Tell me about growing up and where you lived.

KG: My parents met and married in Japan. My dad was an international insurance broker and my mom had moved there as an adult dependent to her dad who worked for Westinghouse. I like to joke that I was “made in Japan,” however, I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We lived there for two years before returning to Japan for eight years, where we stayed until I was in fourth grade. After Japan, I spent a year and a half in New Jersey, then moved to Bogota, Colombia for four years, where I learned to speak fluent Spanish, and then returned to New Jersey in tenth grade. I also spent a summer in high school as an exchange student in Sweden.

AW: What an interesting upbringing! So why the Naval Academy?

KG: That’s a good question! [laughs] I think I was visiting with my high school guidance counselor, when the Blue and Gold Officer walked in. At the time—this was tenth grade—I was really struggling with fitting in. I was an American, but I’d never really lived in the States, so I didn’t know the culture, the TV shows, the music. Anyhow, I didn’t think I’d get in.

AW: Once there, it looks like you continued with language. Probably no surprise, huh?

KG: Yes, I majored in history and minored in Spanish. But I finished all the requirements for Spanish after our second year, so then I moved to French.

AW: And then you studied in France after graduation, right?

KG: I did. I applied through the Cox Fund, which supports language study abroad. They treated it like temporary duty en route to my first duty station. I was in a university class with about twenty students—all from different countries—and we would practice speaking the language, talking about non-traditional things, like women’s rights, things like that. It was a fantastic experience.

AW: Tell me about Panama. Did you pick to go there specifically or was it a luck-of-the-draw assignment?

KG: I chose Panama specifically. On service selection night, I selected General Unrestricted Line, and they had these index cards with every assignment that was available within that specialty. I wanted to go back to a place where I had grown up, to see it as an adult, and also have an opportunity to use my Spanish. Panama borders Colombia, so it was as close as I could get.

AW: When you arrived, Panama was in a state of unrest, to put it mildly. What was happening there at the time?


Operation Just Cause - Panama

KG: General Manuel Noriega was becoming a dictator. He had lost the general election in the spring, but refused to honor the results. His Panamanian Defense Force [PDF] assaulted the winning presidential candidate. It was just getting tense outside the gates—Noriega thumbing his nose at America, basically.

AW: Is that when Operation Just Cause happened?

KG: Actually, no. I arrived in Panama in August of ’89, and spent the next two months just getting settled, learning my duties as a junior officer, qualifying for watch officer for the naval station, things like that. Then, in early October, I had to leave to go back to the states to attend a ten-week course on becoming a public affairs officer [PAO]. The day after I left Panama to attend the course, there was an unsuccessful coup attempt, which tried to remove Noriega from office. And then things began to escalate between U. S. Forces and the PDF.

AW: Were you in touch with the naval station when you were gone? Who was handling your PAO duties while you were in school? If things were escalating, it seems that would be pretty important.

KG: I managed the office remotely, as I was going through school, so I was able to keep up with things. Which actually leads me to a funny story. I knew through my contact with the command in Panama that our PMLs [Personal Movement Limitations] had changed and we now had to wear cammies, not khakis or whites. Back then, the navy didn’t have cammies as part of the sea bag, so I went to the Navy Annex [since demolished - 2013] to buy some, but they were out of green shirts. So I shared my dilemma with a navy commander at the Navy Annex. He made a call, then told me to follow him. We marched over to the Office of the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps! [The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps to serve as his adviser, and as the preeminent and highest ranking enlisted Marine, he is treated with a protocol equivalency of a three-star general officer].

AW: The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps?

KG: Yes! So we walk into his office, and the navy commander I’m with says, “Sergeant Major, the ensign is going back to Panama this weekend and needs a green t-shirt.” The Sergeant Major then turns to one of his desk clerks and says, “Marine, take off your shirt!” And he took it off. Like right there! And I thanked him and everything and now I’m holding this damp, warm, green t-shirt.

AW: The guy is just standing there shirtless?

KG: Yeah. It was crazy. But I’m not going to argue with the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps!

AW: Smart move.

KG: And, to make a long story short, I also ended up getting five green t-shirts from our classmate Julia Meade, so it all worked out. [Julia just retired from active duty with the rank of colonel. You can read her interview here.]

AW: Okay, you have your cammies. Then what?

Flying over Colon, Panama
KG: I graduated from PAO School on December 14th. The next day, the Panamanian General Assembly, which was controlled by Noriega, declared that Panama was at war with the United States. Two days later I flew back—arrived on a Sunday—and then on Wednesday, I was standing watch as the duty officer for the naval station. I awoke to the sound of helicopters and learned that Operation Just Cause was underway.

AW: Uh, no pressure . . . 

KG: No kidding. The Senior Watch Officer told me, “Well, Kristin, if you can handle this, you can handle anything,” and he walked away. I remember thinking, “What if I can’t handle this?”

AW: I’d say! What then?

KG: Well, I just did what I was trained to do. I managed the duties of the watch officer, and eventually, a Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer PAO showed up. His name was Charlie Rowe and he was a godsend. He’d been in Beirut when the Marine barracks were bombed and he was also in Grenada. I was so grateful for his guidance.

AW: How long was the conflict—Operation Just Cause—and what did you do during this time?

KG: It lasted for about six weeks, and I’d have to say, that even though I’d just graduated from PAO training, nearly all of it went out the window. The idea of having embedded journalists had sort of been shelved after World War II. And, as you know, there had been an adversarial relationship between the military and journalists since Vietnam. So when Operation Just Cause happened, we did something completely different than had been done in recent years, which was to take members of the media out to where the action was happening, or as close as we could. I drove a white van with “U. S. Navy” stenciled on both sides—not exactly camouflage!—and Charlie rode shotgun with his pistol out, and then we had a Marine that hung out the side door with a machine gun. We would pull into the Southern Command media center and tell the media guys what we were going to do for the day, and then we would leave once the van was full.

AW: Were you actually close to where people were firing? And what did the journalists think?

KG: Yes, we were pretty close. Once, we were right there when a Marine fired a LAW [Light Anti-tank Weapon] rocket launcher, and it knocked the hubcaps and the rear-view mirror from the van, which was parked two blocks away!

AW: Whoa! So were there many women stationed at Naval Station Panama Canal?

(L-R) Deni (Leadham) Johnson '90, Laura (Bush) Barsland '89,
Kristin, Lynn (Jones) Johnson '89

KG: I had two roommates—both lieutenants—and there were about five enlisted women. I think the naval station maybe had two hundred personnel total.

AW: Did you ever have any trouble because you were a woman, either in Panama, or elsewhere?

KG: I think the single most profound event that was negative for me happened on First Class Cruise [At that time, Naval Academy midshipman were assigned to ships during the summers that preceded their second and fourth years].  I was sent to an AFS—a Fast Combat Stores ship—with a crew of over 400, and this class of ship had just opened up to women. I was supposed to have had a roommate, but ended up being the only woman on board. There were two other midshipmen with me, one from the Academy and one NROTC, and we were called in to meet with the Executive Officer. He told me that we was going to put me in engineering because it was the worst place for a female and that I would set the tone for the women that would follow me. And I thought, “Oh, boy.” And then, when we were walking out of his office, he said to our backs, “And by the way, I’m a ’79 grad.”

AW: For our readers, the class of ’79 at the Academy was the last group to graduate without any women in their class.
  
KG: Yeah, so that did not bode well. And then that day, I sat alone in the wardroom, and no one would talk to me, which really wasn’t a shock, because no one’s going to win by befriending me. The next day, I woke up and someone had bored holes in my stateroom bulkhead at eye level.

AW: So this is not starting well.

KG: No, not really. Then I was told I was going to be the division officer for “B” Division—the guys in charge of the boilers—because their normal division officer had to go to alcohol rehab. So I go down to the engineering officer’s spaces, and there are Playboy pin-ups everywhere, and I go meet with the chief. And that was an . . . uncomfortable exchange. Finally, I left, and I headed to the boiler room. I knew next to nothing about boilers. And to this day, I’m not sure how I knew to ask the right question—maybe divine intervention?—but I asked those twenty-five guys in “B” Division to teach me what they knew. I carried no arrogance. I didn’t do the ring knocker thing. I just asked them to help me learn. And the coolest thing happened. Those twenty-five guys totally took me under their wing. I had zero support from above, but here were these sailors who stuck up for me and taught me everything. I was surprised when I got back to school for the academic year and my company officer announced at morning quarters that the captain of the ship had designated me as a junior engineering officer  of the watch. The real thing, too. Not a token title.

AW: That is an awesome story. And a great lesson for junior officers.

KG: Absolutely. And really, just a good life lesson, in general. Be humble. If you don’t know, ask. And people will respect you for it.

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