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    One Step At A Time



    Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jairus Bailey 

    Carrier Strike Group 10

    “I was in second grade when my teachers signed me up for 800 meters,” said Master Chief Retail Specialist Yan Zhao. “This was my first race. I had never done anything like this before and I was scared to run four laps. When I confided in my Dad, he assured me not to worry and that it’s easy. As all the boys and girls started to run along the race-track, I realized my father was right and that it was easy. I started to get tired on my third to fourth lap and my pace began to slow. I then heard his voice through the speaker system telling me: Keep at it, one leg in front of the other.”
    Zhao recounts multiple beginnings and her father’s wisdom that has carried her through life and the Navy–all the way to Master Chief.
    Zhao was a 20-year-old accounting major when she moved with her family to New York City. She aspired to enjoy the freedoms afforded to Americans and to live a life that was not solely focused on academics. Then the unthinkable happened: two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers.
    “9/11 was a pretty shocking scene,” said Zhao. “This inspired me to join the military to serve and do my part.”
    With a renewed sense of determination, Zhao focused on what she needed to join the Navy. She started to run more seriously to prepare for the Navy’s physical readiness standards. When she was ready to join, her recruiter gave her two choices they believed would be the best fit for her background in accounting.
    “My recruiter gave me a choice between two rates,” said Zhao. “One with a four-week ‘A’ school and the other with eight weeks. As I was already a junior in college, my thinking was that most people who join the Navy are right out of high school and that I did not need the extra 4 weeks of school. So I chose the 4-week ‘A’ school and this is how I became an SH (now retail specialist).”
    Zhao’s ambition to serve and further her education through the Navy surprised her family.
    “When I told my father, he was very open-minded,” said Zhao. “He told me he was not worried and said that ‘no matter what corner of the world I put you, you’re going to survive.’”
    Zhao started as an E-3, but soon found herself struggling to advance to E-5 even though she was scoring in the 99th percentile on her advancement exams. This solidified her original plan of serving for four years and getting out of the Navy to work as an accountant.
    “My then master chief asked me: Do you know Nike’s slogan?” said Zhao. “I replied ‘yes,’ but I still didn’t understand how this related to my 2nd class advancement exam. He explained: just do it. That’s it. Just do your job and things will lay themselves out for you.”
    Zhao insists she is not extraordinary, but that she is really open to critiques and improvements on how to do her job, which includes leading her Sailors.
    “I’m really tough on my Sailors,” said Zhao. “I tell them ‘I am sure one of you thinks of me getting in a car accident, because I am so tough on you, but my hope is one day you will understand why I am so hard on you, and that light bulb of realization will light up in you.’ I try to instill hard work into my Sailors and tell them before they ever think about giving up on a task, to push a little harder, and give an extra push and see what will happen.”
    This philosophy ties back to a piece of advice Zhao received from her father at a young age.
    “It doesn’t matter what you are doing for a living. Even if you are cleaning toilets, you are going to clean your toilet with such detail and attention that it will shine compared to other toilets. And it’s important to remember not everyone is fortunate enough to enjoy what they do for a living, so always strive to find joy in what you do.”
    Within three years of active duty service Zhao’s original plan to leave the military after her initial enlistment began to change.
    “I realized during my first enlistment that I enjoyed the work of an SH and that I was in a good place with supportive people, this is really when I considered making the Navy a career,” said Zhao. “I have been really fortunate and blessed to be in the right place at the right time. I attribute my success in the Navy and why I have made the rank of master chief in 17 years to this.”
    Zhao has had the support of her husband and daughter, as well as many friends she has made in the Navy. With the support of a running group, she maintains a training regimen of 15 to 25 miles a week.
    “I compare running to life sometimes, and I always do and remember what my dad, my largest motivator, says,” said Zhao. “No matter how long the road is, place one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, and you can always reach your destination.”
    Zhao actively participates in marathons. She applies these thoughts when she runs to overcome any struggles or challenges that she encounters. At other times, she enjoys letting her mind go, resting in silence as she runs. Her father has passed away in recent years, but she remembers the wisdom that he has imparted to her life. She continues to run as a way to honor him and pay her respects.
    “I always remember my dad,” said Zhao. “Sometimes it gets hard. But, if I cannot run, I am going to walk. If I can’t walk, I am going to crawl. You are going to get there one way or another.”



    Date Taken: 10.15.2020
    Date Posted: 01.20.2021 07:12
    Story ID: 386325
    Location: NORFOLK, VA, US 

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