Thursday, December 11, 2014

Women Who Inspire: Interview with Cathy Masar

This month's interview is with a very recently retired navy captain, Cathy Masar. Join the navy, see the world! She's done that and then some.

Commander Cathy Masar - Change of Command, Boston
Military Entrance Processing Station, 2011
Cathy Masar graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. During her 25-year career, she served in a wide variety of positions including Training Officer aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, Flag Lieutenant for the Sixth Fleet Commander, Facilitator and Instructor at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, Commanding Officer of the Boston Military Entrance Processing Station, and Executive Director, Total Force Management for the U. S. Pacific Fleet. Cathy retired with the rank of Captain (O-6) and currently works at Amazon as a Senior Human Resources Business Partner. Cathy lives in Seattle, WA.
AW: You just retired after twenty-five years of active duty service as a navy captain. You’ve served all over the world, ashore and at sea, but it all started back in Orofino, Idaho! What led you to choose the Naval Academy?

CM: It was several things. I have three very smart older sisters, who were in college at the time, and it would have been difficult financially for my family to support four daughters in school at the same time. I also wanted to serve, to travel, to see the world, and to be challenged. And my dad was a captain in the navy reserve and served on active duty in Vietnam aboard a hospital ship.

AW: How would you characterize your time at the Naval Academy?

CM: It was hard—the first two years, especially. I struggled with time management. With all the stuff we had to do there—all those extracurricular activities—I was overwhelmed. But I did have help from a Class of ’88 grad, who helped me prioritize and get myself going. I learned to focus.

AW: Any bright spots?

USNA Economics majors visit the New York
Stock Exchange, 1989
L to R, Cathy Masar, Eric Cheney, Heather Purvis
CM: Oh, definitely. I loved Halloween at Navy. We got to dress up. No one was mean to each other. It was all fun. To this day, Halloween is my favorite holiday! My roommates were another bright spot, as we went through such a challenging experience together. And Father Pucciarelli [a marine corps chaplain stationed at USNA when we were there]. Remember him? I went to him for advice when I was having trouble and he pointed to my shoes and said I needed to shine my shoes. I thought, what does that have to do with anything? But then he went on to say that I needed to start with the small things, things that I could control, forget about the other stuff, and I would feel better about myself. He was right.

AW: You served as a General Unrestricted Line Officer and, reading through your bio, you did some really cool stuff—and a wide variety, at that. What was your favorite tour?

CM: My most professionally rewarding tour was aboard [the aircraft carrier], Abraham Lincoln. I served as the Training Officer, but I also qualified as Officer of the Deck, which means, I was qualified to drive the ship. So there I was, driving an aircraft carrier, with planes taking off and landing, and I was a human resources specialist! Crazy! I also earned my Surface Warfare qualification, while assigned there.

AW: Okay, so that’s cool as hell, I just want to say. In charge on the bridge on an aircraft carrier! So you were on the Lincoln in 2001. This was seven years after the ban was lifted for women serving aboard combatant ships. What was the atmosphere like onboard?

CM: I would say it was the tour that hardened me the most. Up to this point, I had done a lot of shore tours and staff tours and working with admirals, so I was used to a little more politeness. But on the ship, it was a lot more crude. You know, the foul language, sailors getting arrested for drug and alcohol related offenses. Just a very different world.

AW: Were there many women on the ship?

Cathy Masar, kindergarten.
This little girl would
grow up to drive an
aircraft carrier.
CW: I don’t remember how many, exactly. But I do remember that fifty percent of the Reactor Department officers were women. These were nuclear surface warfare officers, which is a tough job for anyone—a huge job on a carrier—and these girls were sharp. So heartening to see what they were doing.

AW: Going back to working with admirals, you served as the Flag Lieutenant for the Sixth Fleet Commander, based in Gaeta, Italy.

CM: I did. I served as the Protocol Officer and the Flag Lieutenant for Sixth Fleet for two years and before that, I was in Naples, Italy and served as Protocol Officer and Flag Secretary for the Commander, Fleet Air Mediterranean.

AW: Four years in Italy! Sweet!

CM: You asked about my favorite tour earlier and I said my time on the Abraham Lincoln was the most professionally rewarding. But my favorite place was Italy. And the tours here allowed me to travel all over Europe.

AW: Were you stationed on a ship there?

CM: The command ship for the Sixth Fleet Commander was the USS La Salle, a converted amphibious ship. So yes, I had berthing there, but I also had a place in Formia, which was incredibly beautiful—glass walls, statues—wonderful.
AW: Did you get underway much?

CM: At least once a month, we would cruise into the Adriatic Sea, and then the Med, of course. I visited Casablanca, Israel, Greece, Algeria, Turkey. . . . We flew into Monaco.. . . I even got to accompany the admiral to Macedonia. Just an amazing opportunity.

AW: I’d say! And what was that like, working with admirals?

CM: It was extremely interesting, because I worked so closely with them. It sort of de-mystified them. I learned how they worked, how they allotted their time. They were managing so much and I got to see how they pulled it all together.

AW: I could for sure get stalled here and spend the rest of the time talking about Italy, but I wanted to touch on your time—earlier in your career—at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI). You were stationed at Patrick Air Force Base for this?

CM: I was. This was in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and this tour was an absolute life changer for me. Prior to this, I had actually put in my resignation letter. This was only five years into my naval career. I was at the Recruit Training Command in Orlando and the base was being shut down, and I was getting a divorce, and I just didn’t have a plan. Someone mentioned an opportunity at DEOMI and wondered if I might be interested. I called my detailer and she said I could go there, so I pulled my resignation papers.

AW: I had no idea you’d submitted resignation papers at one point! So what did you do here?

CM: This command included all pay grades and all services and we had an intense four-month training period, where we received sensitized training on race relations, gender relations, and managing diversity. It was the one place in my whole career where sexist or racist comments were not tolerated- or even joked about. I mean, we were role models, so everyone respected each other and knew that the standard had to be high.

AW: As part of your job, you had to travel worldwide to instruct senior military leaders on diversity issues and the prevention of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. How were you received?

CM: Well . . . some groups were kind to us—we were assigned to mobile training teams—but some were hostile, too. But overall, I learned a great deal. How to get up in front of people, how do deliver unpopular training, and I learned valuable facilitation skills. That tour re-motivated and kick-started my career. I thought, after this, I’m ready to do anything.

AW: Any specific examples of a “hostile” crowd?

CM: I was surprised when we traveled to South Africa. This was just after the end of apartheid and I thought race relations would be the focus of our training. But we had a much harder time with women’s issues. That’s where we found the biases. Due to apartheid, they had already been addressing race issues, but not gender issues.

Captain Cathy Masar - Retirement Ceremony, Hawaii, 2014
AW: So interesting! Okay, so let’s fast forward to your last command, when you worked for the U. S. Pacific Fleet. You carried enormous responsibility here.

CM: Yes, I worked as N1 [Executive Director, Total Force Management], a job normally filled by a civilian, who is a flag officer equivalent. The woman in this position left, and I was asked to fill in for her, however, I stayed in this position for a full eighteen months!

AW: “Filling in” for  eighteen months. Classic. So what did this job entail and where were you stationed?

CM: I was in Hawaii for this tour and responsible for the manning of all ships in the Pacific Fleet and the human resources functions for over 130,000 military and civilian.

AW: That’s a big job by anyone’s standards!

CM: Definitely. But I had a great staff. Great support.

AW: And you retired from the navy after this?

CM: I did. Time to get back to family. And the timing was just right. I was ready.

AW: You work at Amazon now. How have you found the transition from military to civilian life?

CM: I had no idea what to expect and no time to prepare. I was so busy in my last job that when I retired, I was just suddenly out there. I networked through Linked In and that really helped, but job searching was a humbling experience.

AW: So you’ve been at Amazon how long now?

CM: Only a month. In fact, I haven’t had to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving in a long time (the military usually gives that day off), but I was working at Amazon yesterday, on Black Friday.

AW: Ha! Black Friday. At Amazon. Nothing like being thrown into the fire! So I guess your navy experience served you well here.

CM: It certainly did!