‘The glass ceiling is shattered’: Navy selects 1st active-duty female gunner’s mate for master chief
Stars and Stripes June 1, 2023
The Navy has selected an active-duty female gunner’s mate for promotion to master chief petty officer for the first time in the service’s 230-year history.
Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate Jessica Saunders, who joined the Navy in 2002, was slated for its highest enlisted rank last week, the service said in a statement Tuesday.
“This is not only a significant milestone for my naval career but for all sailors,” Saunders said in the statement. “The glass ceiling is shattered.”
Gunner’s mates are tasked with operating and maintaining missile launch systems, underwater explosive weapons, gun mounts and other ordnance equipment.
Initially focused on maintaining ship cannons and gunpowder, it was one of the Navy’s original career specialties but has been open to women only since the 1990s.
The field continues to be dominated by men, however. Just over 12% of gunner’s mates are women, according to career website Zippia.
During her career, Saunders has served aboard the fast combat support ship Sacramento, the destroyers Cole and Cowpens and the guided missile cruiser Lake Champlain.
Her onshore assignments include stints at Naval Air Station Sigonella’s weapons department, Naval Station Mayport Security Detachment, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One and Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
In February, Saunders became an ammunition supply administration and ordnance officer instructor at Surface Combat Systems Training Command San Diego.
“Back in the 1990s when I reported aboard my first ship as gunnery officer, there were no females at the time in the armory,” her commanding officer, Capt. Justin Long, said in the statement. “As I retire later this summer from the Navy, I’m so proud to see outstanding sailors and leaders like Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate Saunders at the highest levels of their communities.”
In April, Master Chief Gunner’s Mate Jessica Harrison became the first female gunner’s mate overall to be promoted to master chief petty officer. Harrison is a reservist who works at the Navy Culture and Force Resilience Office.
Women serving full-time in other naval career fields have been promoted to master chief petty officer.
In 1959, Navy Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian became the first woman in the U.S. armed forces to attain the rank.
An earlier version of this story said Saunders was the first female gunner’s mate selected for promotion to master chief petty officer. The Navy corrected its original statement and the story now reflects the new information.