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“Dive, dive” the loudspeaker booms throughout the 18,000-ton vessel as it slices through the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington just outside the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Spray billows into the air as Lieutenant Jackie Stokes ’15 confidently orders the crew of the USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) to submerge the ballistic missile submarine to periscope depth in preparation for classified operations “deeper than 400 feet and faster than 20 knots.” Holding a high level security clearance, she can’t tell us much more than that about the submarine’s operations at sea—but, happily she did take time on a recent visit to Greenhills to catch me up on her adventures since leaving our hallowed cinder block walls back in 2015. 

During her years at Greenhills, Jackie learned a bit about submarines and seagoing vessels as a member of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl team, where I recall her abundant enthusiasm and practical “OK, let’s get this done” approach. Greenhills faculty and coaches remember those traits, and a strong determination, across classes, courts, and out onto the field where she was a force to be reckoned with as a multi-sport athlete. She made the varsity field hockey team as a 9th grader when she was just 13 years old, and served as an indefatigable goalie all four years in the upper school. Coach Marsha Mumm declares that Jackie was “one of the most dedicated, disciplined, and team-oriented athletes the school has had.” If one substitutes leaders for athletes, then her career path should not come as a surprise. 

Following graduation, Jackie trekked from Greenhills to the University of Pennsylvania (better known as “Penn”) to study chemical and biomolecular engineering with a concentration in biotechnology. The recipient of a Navy ROTC scholarship, she participated in regular physical training exercises and took Naval systems and leadership classes, as well as spending summers as a midshipman exploring different specialties within the Navy. At Penn she did lab work related to the chemical engineering behind pharmaceuticals, but said to me “I learned when I was in the Navy that I like applied things…working on efficiency, touching things.” And hands-on engineering was right around the corner. Upon graduation (Magna Cum Laude) from Penn in May of 2019 she was commissioned as an officer of the United States Navy with orders to proceed to Nuclear Power School and then Nuclear Prototype Reactor Training. This is a grueling program of 14-hour days, shift work, and learning by the “firehose method”—essentially taking officers through a masters in engineering in a period of a little more than a year, wherein one not only learns nuclear engineering theory but physically operates every component station in a nuclear power plant and propulsion system. On completion of this training she attended a four-month submarine officer school in Groton, Connecticut, where she learned (non-nuclear) submarine systems as well as sonar, weapons, tactical, and communication systems and procedures. Finally, the Navy gave her orders to her first ship, the aforementioned USS Louisiana.

Oh, by the way, she didn’t mention this, but that was kind of a big deal… in case you didn’t know, the U.S. Navy had a long history of not allowing women to serve, particularly on warships. It was in 2010, when Jackie was in 8th grade, that the Navy first declared female officers would be allowed to serve on submarines, and as recently as 2016 that enlisted women began serving on submarines. As you would probably guess by now, Jackie was again a force as a submarine officer—leading as many as three divisions at the same time, stepping in as ship’s engineer (a department head position usually reserved for a higher rank), and being chosen as the Submarine Squadron 19 Junior Officer of the Year from among numerous submarine crews based in Washington. Jackie shepherded the Louisiana through a difficult overhaul period, followed by at-sea testing of all systems, receiving accolades all the way. My favorite story was what a senior enlisted crewmember—who apparently, when she arrived, was still sour on women in the Navy—told her as she left: “I don’t care who takes over after you, but I hope it’s a woman.” There’s absolutely no question Jackie will be a hard act to follow.

She stopped by Ann Arbor on the way to her next act, or duty station in Navy parlance, which is working in London as a NATO Maritime Command Submarine Control Watch Officer. Think of it like air traffic control for submarines, but just for the ones we know are there. And also trying to avoid collisions with the others, who are trying to be invisible to us. Sounds challenging, but then, I can’t imagine Jackie looking for anything else!

By Deano Smith, Greenhills Head of Upper School and Former Nuclear Submarine Officer

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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