STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) — Capt. Sara Joyner established her place in naval history as the first woman to command a carrier air wing (CAG).
As an aviator, she has logged many, many flight hours and led combat missions. Currently, she is part of a group that informs and influences the chief of naval operations and senior staff as they determine Navy policy and program investment.
Few people realize that she started her naval career as a student of oceanography. When it comes to opportunity, she firmly believes that in the Navy there are “no limits.”
“Where else would you have the opportunity to go to school, study, fly, fight, lead, never have to do the same job twice all while defending your country?” she said.
Joyner decided at age 11 she wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. She received her commission from there in 1989 after graduating with merit and a bachelor’s degree in oceanography. Her interest in this specialty stemmed from her father, a surface warfare officer who worked extensively with the naval oceanography community, as well as from her own high school job with Horn Point Laboratory in Maryland where she grew up.
She intended to become a naval oceanographer; however, her father recommended she first earn a warfare specialty to gain a better understanding of the Navy. In the process, she discovered naval aviation.
Joyner earned her naval aviator wings in 1991 and eventually became a fighter pilot, flying F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets on combat missions.
In 2007, Joyner assumed leadership of Super Hornet Strike Fighter Squadron “Gunslingers “(VFA) 105 in 2007 and in 2013 took command of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3. She has held numerous other leadership positions in the Navy and today, after attending Joint Forces Staff College, she is serving a 10-month assignment with the CNO’s Strategic Studies Group.
She retains great awareness of and respect for her academy major and its impact on warfighting.
“Meteorology, physics and understanding the effects of salinity, temperature and wave propagation are all-important as a naval aviator and especially as CAG,” she said. “I found myself revisiting my understanding of oceanography in my position as CAG when my ASW assets exercised in preparation for deployment.”
She added that on a carrier a “bond of trust” forms between naval aviators and the meteorology and oceanography (METOC) personnel.
“The accuracy of the information provided prevents catastrophes and saves lives,” she said. “Being on an ever-moving platform provides unique challenges only the METOC personnel can address. Most in the Navy do not fully understand the breadth of support they receive from the oceanography community.”
Joyner is mindful of the speed bumps naval personnel, especially women, encounter mid-career. Speaking from personal experience, she urged them not to quit too soon, to find mentors who push them to places they don’t want to go on their own, and not put their lives on hold in order to serve.
“I think a bit of the gender gap in retention comes from a tendency to underestimate your capacity, your drive and your grit,” she said. “Don’t look too far ahead and become daunted by the future. You have to try to find your limits and then find a way to work around them.”