Story by MC3 Richard Miller / Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs
On the second floor of the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif., a small corner office plays a pivotal role in the lives of the command’s Sailors. One by one they trickle in and out, seeking guidance from Master Chief Navy Counselor Susan Garrow on how to succeed in the Navy. Questions about advancement, career plans in the Navy and in the civilian workforce afterwards, and questions about navigating the sometimes turbulent waters of Navy life are common. The answers can be life changing for young Sailors. Providing useful information and advice is just business as usual for Garrow. She has watched the Navy evolve and change throughout her 24-year career, but if one thing has stayed consistent it is her ability to succeed.
Garrow’s story is far from average. Originally from the Caribbean island nation Trinidad and Tobago, Garrow says her upbringing helped prepare her for the difference in cultures she would later see when traveling with the Navy.
“There are certain things you expect when you go to a different country if you grew up outside the United States,” Garrow said. “I don’t expect everyone to speak English, so when I’m overseas, I want to learn the languages.”
Garrow lived in Trinidad for the first eight years of her life. After moving to the states, her family rarely stayed in the same location for a long time. Garrow credits the constant moving with her ability to adjust to change, and the development of her strong work ethic.
“I’m always looking for that next level of responsibility,” said Garrow. “I’m never satisfied with where I’m at. If there’s a place to move up, I’m always looking for that.”
Garrow instantly excelled after enlisting, but still faced her fair share of adversity early on in her career.
“There is an expectation of what you can do, no matter who you are,” said Garrow. “It’s human nature. You may believe that a woman can only do so much until another woman proves differently.”
The roles and expectations of women in the Navy have changed drastically over the last few decades. Garrow has seen the first women allowed on ships, the first women allowed on subs, and the first female four-star admiral. Perceptions of women in leadership roles continued to evolve as Garrow’s career progressed.
“By the time I hit my 10-year mark, I don’t think there was a question of who I was as an individual,” said Garrow. “I had been in 10 years and gotten to this point, so apparently I could do it.”
There are three female master chiefs at WARCOM, which is far from common.
“The first time I worked at a command that had a female master chief was during my eleventh year in the Navy,” said Garrow. “The next time I saw a female master chief at a command I worked at was here at Naval Special Warfare Command. Consider the odds that in my almost 24 years of service that I have only worked in two commands where there were master chiefs of my gender.”
Over time, the demographics of Navy leadership has diversified. Garrow says that a variety of different role models helps to motivate young Sailors of all backgrounds.
“Had I never seen a black female chief, I never would have thought I could become a chief petty officer,” said Garrow. “It wasn’t until I saw a black female master chief that it even became an attainable goal.”
Despite the Navy’s increasing diversity, Garrow admits there is still a long way to go.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that preconceived notions are going to go away,” said Garrow. “I still see them and hear about them, but it’s up to us to show that we can choose to live differently.”
Leaving behind preconceived notions and gender-related professional expectations is a work in progress, but Garrow’s career success as well as that of the other two female master chiefs at WARCOM shows how far the Navy has come. Garrow will retire at the end of her next enlistment, ending a career where she consistently exceeded others’ expectations and set higher ones for herself. Until she is piped ashore, Garrow will finish out her career doing what she knows best: using her experience to guide other Sailors beyond what’s expected of them and toward what they are truly capable of.