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    ‘It Was a Man’s World:’ Retired Sailor, Career Civil Servant Reflects on Navy Success

    Darla Sutton Official Portrait

    Photo By Neil Mabini | Darla Sutton, a branch head in corporate operations of Naval Surface Warfare Center,...... read more read more



    Story by Brianna Alexander 

    Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division

    Darla Sutton, Corporate Operations Department operations manager for Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, has spent the last seven years as a Navy civilian. Having also retired from the Navy following 22 years of active service, she is no stranger to working in a diverse environment and never doubted her ability to keep up with the males in her field.

    “Historically, when I enlisted in the Navy in the 90s, it was a man’s world,” Sutton said. “You could either pull your weight and succeed, or fail. I chose to succeed.”

    Originally from Diamond Bar, California, Sutton was inspired to enlist by other family members who were part of the military, especially her older brother, who was in the Air Force at the time.

    “I was eager to start my career, and with a natural love for the water and desire to help people, the Navy was a perfect fit,” she said.

    She spent her early years in the Navy dedicating her time and effort to being the best Sailor and crewmember she could be. Her perseverance paid off when she became a chief petty officer in 2004, after being the only female chief select in her group of 20 selectees.

    Retired Master Chief Cryptologic Technician (Communications) Nancy Hobart, one of Sutton’s supervisors at the time and an informal mentor, commanded a level of respect through her actions and work ethic that made her an easy role model that she and others could aspire to emulate.

    “During my initiation in Italy, I met her and could see the level of respect the entire mess just naturally showed her,” she said. “She walked with such confidence and demanded excellence. She never stepped down and would go toe-to-toe with her male counterparts if needed on any issue. From then on, I wanted to match her level of integrity, fearlessness and professionalism.”

    And she did.

    “People knew they could ask me anything, because even if I didn’t know the answer, I would guide them to someone who did,” she said. “Doing this helped me strengthen relationships with people who were once strangers.”

    Sutton used these connections and skills to her advantage in the field. Over the years, she has continued to make her family proud with her notable achievements, adding to the list of successful women in her family.

    With work being Sutton’s primary focus, she paced herself with her academics. In 2016, the same year she retired from the Navy, Sutton earned a bachelor’s degree in intelligence operations. She then began working for NSWC Corona’s human resources division, where she handled high-level tasks to ensure the training and development needs of the workforce were met.

    She noted her mother enjoyed reflecting on how times have changed, because she and her two sisters-in-law were all the breadwinners in their family, and it was a true turnaround seeing them be so successful in their careers and educations without depending on husbands.

    Sutton earned a master’s degree in leadership and management in 2021. Given her experience, she said she recognizes the strides women have made in a male-dominated field.

    “There have been a lot of changes since I retired from the Navy,” she said. “Women are in the ranks, but it’s still the military, and it’s hard for many to not associate the military with masculinity.”

    Even so, Sutton made it clear that being a woman in any industry can present challenges, but should not be the single factor defining their level of success. In her experience, she said the Navy has been one of the few places that focuses on work ethic over gender.

    “I was surprised seeing my daughter still having to deal with the struggles of gender equality,” she said. “I lived in a world where my gender had no limitations. I never felt like I was being treated unfairly, because if I was a certain rank, I got paid the same as everyone else at that rank, regardless of gender.”

    One of Sutton’s beliefs is that emphasizing the accomplishments of women – who at one point in the not-so-distant past could not even purchase a house on their own – is a great way to inspire others to excel in their professions.

    “I know that in our department, highlighting people shows their career growth,” she said. “Women’s History Month allows us to reflect on women’s accomplishments throughout history and see how women today are forging a greater path into the future.”

    Sutton was awarded a Navy Civilian Service Commendation Medal for helping to lead the command’s COVID-19 action team that implemented first-ever pandemic protocols, but said the award itself is not what gives her a sense of accomplishment on the job.

    “I’m grateful when people articulate their appreciation, but making a positive impact on the lives of others is really what drives me,” she said. “Sometimes, as I walk down the hall, co-workers thank me for helping them through a difficult time. That inspires me to accomplish more.”

    Sutton’s main focuses are improving communications and providing clarity on operations to her peers. She is passionate about helping people achieve their goals and focuses on bettering herself in order to pave the way for newcomers.

    “I’m a firm believer that if you stay in your position for too long, it inhibits others from moving forward in your place,” she said. “My advice is to embrace change and always work to find a resolution, not an excuse.”

    Sutton credits her proudest moments in her career on becoming a chief and mentor that other chiefs could depend on. Hearing about lessons and time she shared with them that later impacted their careers, she said, left her speechless.

    Now, as a civilian, her proudest accomplishments out of uniform are still centered on leaving a mark on the lives of others.

    “My kids are all proud of me,” she said. “And I have two daughters who think I am capable of doing anything. I suppose that means I’ve done my job and impacted the next generation.”

    NSWC Corona Division has provided analysis and assessment for the Navy since 1964. With experience in gauging the Navy’s warfighting capability, NSWC Corona is a leader in NAVSEA data analytics. Corona utilizes networked data environments, data and visualization, and measurement technology to bridge the Navy’s data silos, enabling informed decision-making for the warfighter. Anchor to the Inland Empire Tech Bridge, NSWC Corona is located in Norco, California, with detachments in Fallbrook and Seal Beach and personnel in 14 additional locations.



    Date Taken: 03.08.2023
    Date Posted: 03.08.2023 18:22
    Story ID: 439989
    Location: CORONA, CA, US 
    Hometown: DIAMOND BAR, CA, US

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