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Tammy Emerson, Market Leader-Florida, W&O Supply

When did you first become interested in military service?

I had always wanted to join the Navy. I started going to visit the recruiters while I was in 5th grade. Every year, they told me to come back and see them in a few years. I also wanted to see the world, and the Navy helped me do that.  Now, I have been to 40 countries.

Tell us more about your service in the Navy.

I was active duty Navy for 8 years, and I was in the first female rifle company in the history of the Navy. I filled out my dream sheet and asked to be placed in Europe, and I got stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion, Gulfport, MS. I went in non-designated (without a specialty). I started working in the tool room issuing supplies, decided I wanted to become a Storekeeper, and was stationed there for one year. After graduation, I got stationed at Military Airlift Command in Rota, Spain for 3 years. During that time, I went to Cargo handling school and received an NEC (Naval Enlisted Classification). I also went to Independent Storekeeper school which allowed me basically to be on my own at a duty station and handle all duties. I left active duty in August 1988 and immediately joined the Naval Reserves and went into the Cargo Handling Battalion Eleven. I was activated for Desert Storm. I retired from the reserves with 15-1/2 years of service for a combined 23-1/2 years of active and reserve duty. I retired in May of 2005 as a Storekeeper Senior Chief (E8).

Tell us about one of your most memorable moments serving in the Navy?

My last active duty station was at Patrick Air Force Base, Cocoa Beach. I was a buyer for Military Sealift Command and the only Storekeeper. While stationed there, I received Space Coast Sailor of the Year and also Military Sealift Command’s East Coast Sailor of the Year. There, I was very fortunate to have lunch with President Reagan, and that was my “15 minutes of fame” I will never forget!

How did you first become interested in W&O Supply?

While stationed at Military Sealift Command, I would buy from a maritime vendor in Jacksonville, W&O Supply. I told him I was looking for a job, and the rest is history. Working in the Cargo Handling Battalion, I was on many Naval ships, so when I came to W&O I was very familiar with working on vessels. That gave me a head start. Most of my training has been on the job training, and now, I am a Branch Manager in Jacksonville and a Regional Manager of our Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa branches.

What recommendations do you have for others leaving the military and transitioning into the maritime industry?

I got my job at W&O because of my buyer credentials from the U.S. Navy. After I got out of the Navy I also took purchasing classes to help me in my civilian career. I believe you should build on the skills you learned in the Navy. You already have a step up because of your dependability. You should join maritime networking associations like the Propeller Club, Jacksonville Area Ship Repair, and there are many others. This expands your network tremendously. Also, many of the colleges have maritime programs.

What is most familiar to you in your current position relative to your rating in the service?​

Working with the mariners out in the field when I do ship checks is experience that has been invaluable to me. Also, I went from working in a Navy job which was dominated by males to a civilian job which is male dominated.

What similarities have you found in the way the maritime industry operates in comparison to the military?

I think they both have many people that have the same traits, dependability and strong work ethic. I also think that you have to learn to be very flexible in both industries because ship schedules change often leading sometimes to many emergencies. I have learned to operate very well in chaos.

What was your experience as a woman in both the military and maritime industry?

I think they are both tough industries where you must show your grit. Being a woman in the Navy toughened me up which has helped me in my maritime career. When I came in the Navy, the men didn’t think women should be in the Navy. I had to work twice as hard to prove that I did and I was worthy. When I first came into the maritime industry in 1988, I faced the same issue. People wanted to talk to a man because they thought as a woman I didn’t have enough knowledge. Again, I boarded the vessels and worked through technical issues to prove myself in the maritime industry.

How has being in the Navy helped your transition process?

Yes, it has helped me tremendously. I automatically get a certain level of respect when the mariners know that I am retired Navy. If I had to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same way that I did. Navy first and then the maritime industry.

What advice would you have for a service member interested in this field upon leaving the military?

Joining the networking associations has made a huge difference for me in my career. It has opened so many doors, and I now know so many more people in this industry because of these associations. Also, local American Legions are a huge help to military personnel and they have an extensive reach.