Misty Webster appreciates her good timing, "but the Navy was going to do this sooner or later," she says. "The stars aligned for me."
Her dad, Michael Webster, offers a more colorful description:
"It's like they're trotting out the Mercury 7 astronauts."
Misty, a 2006 graduate of Wesley Chapel High School, is about to make history as the Navy abandons one of the final barriers to female officers: serving aboard a submarine. She is one of only 11 female midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy selected for the elite duty once she earns her commission on May 28.
The Navy, which first welcomed women to serve on surface ships in 1993, had balked at opening up opportunities on submarines because of the tight quarters and privacy issues. But the fleet now includes the new, larger Trident guided missile subs.
More to the point, Navy leaders argued, the strength of all military forces depends on recruiting the best available minds — period.
Which brings us back to Misty Webster. She ranked sixth in her large high school class with a 4.3 grade-point average. She demonstrated unique balance — a math whiz, member of the National Honor Society and a standout athlete on the swim, basketball and track teams.
And she knew from the time she was in the seventh grade that she wanted to be a military officer.
"My dad took me to visit the Air Force Academy, and I was so impressed," she recalled on Wednesday during a telephone interview. "My interest just got stronger from there."
At the beginning of her senior year at Wesley Chapel, Misty received an invitation to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She chose the Navy after visiting Annapolis.
"There were so many options — flight, Marines," she said, "and I was really impressed with the professionalism and the overall culture. I have to say, I have absolutely loved every minute here."
As she began her third year at the academy, Misty trained for a month, including a week aboard the USS San Juan submarine in Kings Bay, Ga.
"I just felt like I really fit in, more than in other communities I had experienced," she said. "It was very technically based, and such an important mission for the Navy."
At the time, there were rumblings that the Navy would end the gender restrictions, but Misty had no idea she might one day be selected to join a submarine crew.
"I feel blessed," she said.
About 1,000 senior midshipmen — called "Firsties" — will become ensigns on May 28. Misty, 21, will leave behind the campus where she enjoyed being on the rock-climbing and rowing teams, and presiding over the Astronomy Club. She will head to Charleston, S.C., for training and then wait for an assignment on a sub based either in Georgia or Washington state.
Some critics of the integration of subs (limited for the time being to officers who make up only 10 percent of a crew) worry about privacy issues and possible sexual harassment or encounters as the vessels head out for months at sea. Misty doesn't.
"I've come to expect a high degree of professionalism," she said. "People will do their jobs. Yes, officers will share the same bathroom. We'll just have to remember to flip over the sign. It's really no big deal. I'm used to being on a campus with 80 percent men."
Her service will fit into family history. Michael, now a truck driver, spent 10 years in the Army and was stationed in Fort Polk, La., when Misty was born there at the base hospital. And his father, Marshall Webster, spent 20 years in the Navy.
"He'd be so proud of his granddaughter," Michael said. "That's for sure."
Bill Stevens can be reached at (727) 869-6250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.