The Principal is supposed to be your “pal,” right? That’s what we always heard in grade school. But we all knew the principal was the person in charge, and ultimately responsible for the school. It’s the same with me. As a Principal for Safety (PFS) for the Navy, I am responsible for the safety of the equipment that our war fighters- the brave men and women who defend our country, our rights, and our beliefs– use to do their jobs. I see my job as a service; this is a job where it can’t be about me.
I would like to say that my career has been a planned-out series of events that were carried out with exacting preciseness. Ha! I do admire people who can say that, but it was not the case for me. Mine was more rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’ down the field toward the goal line. The common thread for my working life has been military (for the most part). But, a long time before that, I was influenced by the best female role models: The Patterson Women. My grandmother, whom I don’t remember, but have heard so many stories about, my mother and my two aunts were the original Patterson Women. All college-educated, they were proponents of promoting women, politics and anything else they were interested in. I had never thought of my mother as a feminist, but she was– in addition to being my first and still most favorite role model.
After graduation, I started out working for General Dynamics, later to become Lockheed Martin, in Fort Worth, Texas. I began my career as a technician of sorts, filing through jet engine run data from testing. I was happy; I had a job and a paycheck, but it was a “far piece” (Oklahoma talk, y’all) from my Chemistry/Biology degree. When a job came available in the materials lab, I jumped on it, and began testing adhesives, coatings and sealants. That led into fuel tank ballistic testing with my coating, which led into vulnerability analysis. Before the job I have now, that was the coolest job I had. Basically, a vulnerability analysis uses a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) system to represent all the systems of the aircraft in the computer. Then, shot lines that represent different ballistic elements such as bullets and projectiles from missiles are generated from different angles to see where the vulnerable areas were. I was able to work with all the different systems on the aircraft to “harden” it through different techniques. I did vulnerability analysis on fighter aircraft for Lockheed, then on military helicopters for Bell Helicopter Textron. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I took a few years “off” and had a cabinet shop, then a tooling shop, then a machine shop, and a welding shop. I’m reminded of something my brother-in-law said about my sister and me: “Those Patterson girls need something new to do every 5 years.”
Time passed and I found myself in Panama City, Florida, home of the world’s most beautiful beaches and the Naval Systems Warfare Center. One of the areas the Naval Surface Warfare Center specializes in is mine warfare. Mine warfare systems detect and eliminate mines before they detect and eliminate our ships and people. The equipment used for this job can potentially be dangerous for the users, and that’s where system safety comes in. If you design safety into the system from the beginning and continue that vigilance through the life of the system, you save lives, equipment and the environment.
After getting some valuable experience, knowledge and certifications, I was ready to take on the position of Principal for Safety for several projects, which is what I do now. I can’t express the importance this job has for me. When you know the sailors and airmen personally who are going to use this system, you realize your due diligence is crucial to their well being. I want to do my part to ensure they go home to their families when their work is done.
My career with the Department of Defense has taken me to some interesting places: Maine, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, California and Bahrain. I’ve climbed on jet fighters, ridden in helicopters and on small and medium boats, and I’ve sailed on one of the Navy’s newest vessels- the Littoral Combat Ship.
Everything I do gives me a new appreciation of the technology developments of the bright, new minds that are designing and operating these systems.
“That deep-seated thing that you have, that you would like to do, that you see as impossible– that is your future.” – Captain Gail Harris, USN, retired.
I keep that quote on my desk- it reminds me that my future is ultimately what my thoughts are today. The impossible is the next challenge, and I can’t wait to see what the next adventure is.