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Diane Ferguson Transcript.pdf

Diane Madden Ferguson, Petty Officer, Third Class, US Navy

Born in 1953, Diane grew up in West Chicago a tight-knit and patriotic community. A couple of years after graduating from West Community High School, in 1971, she enlisted in the US Navy. She hoped the military would help provide structure and professional training. Another draw was having access to higher education, thanks to the GI benefits. Her father and brothers had all served and at the time she finished high school her next-in-age brother, Neil, was still serving in the Navy. They relished the idea of doing sister-brother duty.

At recruitment, Diane was guaranteed to be part of a group of fifty women who would receive training in the rate of Operations Specialist, the first females permitted to train in what had been a previously all-male rate. At “A” School at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, in Waukegan, Illinois, Diane found that women were treated equally to men, and everyone was judged according to merit. They trained in everything from working radar, maintaining physical equipment, and learning how to navigate and use the plotting board.

The women added their own spice and began practices such as study partners. Because Operation Specialists covered a range of tasks in a wide variety of environments, they learned how to work underground with no exposure to daylight, when working on radar. Or by simulating ship duty, they learned how to control aircraft. Humor was needed too, such as when Diane was told that the parachute, she was rigging would be the one used for her upcoming jump!

Madden’s first duty station was at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arriving in January 1974. Her “grunt” training there included learning how to use firearms and practice living in a foxhole. After having proven herself during ninety days of “Dirty Duty,” Diane worked in the radar room, and even in tandem with her brother. Neil, as part of Air Control, directed planes to take off and land. It was her job to do intercept control, “keep them all floating in the air and keep them from running into each other.” Diane flourished professionally but sadly, fell in love with an older man who went to great lengths to deceive such as her buying her an engagement ring and encouraging sailors to warmly endorse them as a couple, in spite of the fact that he was already married.

In spite of the expansion of the role of women in the Navy, sexism was far from over, and it reared its ugly head once she became pregnant. Her friend, a medical corpsman, managed to include Diane with a group of pregnant married women traveling to the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth for abortions due to exposure to a faulty X-Ray machine. Rather than get an abortion, in August 1974, Diane was sent to Naval Station Norfolk where she was to spontaneously abort. This was interpreted in a cruel way. For example, Diane was not only forced to run a floor buffer, but her superior felt a need to jam the buffer into her gut, as well. Later that month, her commander made it clear that if she wished to stay in the Navy, she must participate in a medical trial for Pitocin to investigate if it would induce labor.

The mentality of blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator prevailed. Diane was often called a home wrecker and she was sent to live in an isolated part of the barracks. Although she felt that opening up to her brother would only escalate the situation, if he were to rise in her defense, she did meet with the chaplain who was able to arrange for her to transfer to NAS Jacksonville, Florida, where Neil would be serving, as well. In January 1976 she and Neil shared a rented house and a car amicably. Diane was now charged with keeping track of many variables such as the bombing, the range master, and the accuracy of the squadrons in five bombing ranges in Florida and in Louisiana. Similarly, she tracked the proficiency levels of those doing bombing runs, so that only the well-prepared would be shipped out to Vietnam. Long before PowerPoint, Diane created graphs and bar charts to make the information more digestible to the officers. Indeed, one officer was surprised to learn that a woman was responsible for this!

Sadly, at NAS Jacksonville, the Navy lacked a mechanism designed to prevent predators in a system to hold them accountable for their deeds. Even her honorable friendship with “sea daddy” Commander Alvin Marsh, could not protect her from an assault by an E-9 [senior enlisted person] of the very same division, when he was drunk, referencing her past. The perpetrator attempted to torpedo her professionally, but Diane successfully fought back, taking the high road, ensuring that this individual would not lose rank nor get captain mast which would impact his family adversely. Rather she received permission to report to a different boss.

By November 1976, Diane joined the Navy Recruiting District Chicago where she wanted to share patriotism and pride in defending the country. At the same time, she warned women:

"You need to be strong-willed, and you need to expect that not everybody's there with, you know, your best interest at heart.”

To numb out the pain resulting from these traumas, Diane began to drink. Luckily, her friendship with Michael, a high school friend deepened into love. As he was sober, and as the two enjoyed life together, alcohol lost its hold on Diane. Diane experienced stabbing abdominal pains and so she checked into Great Lakes Medical Center. She left the Navy in 1977 on a medical discharge.

Diane and Michael married, and have two children, also grandchildren. Diane continued to give back to the community. She worked as a police officer for the DuPage Sheriff County, she pioneered a program on recidivism for inmates to master life skills like anger management and established recovery pods in the pursuit of higher education. She herself had followed up on her studies, graduating with an MA in Organizational Behavior. Having shoved aside the pain for so long, the hurt young girl began “seeping out” and Diane sought therapy. Diane began to open up to her family and later speak out publicly. The film, The Invisible War, in 2012, about military sexual trauma played a part. In 2016, she published her memoir, Undertow: A US Navy Veteran's Journey through Military Sexual Trauma. She is pleasedthat good has come out of it and other victims including men have become emboldened to speak out at last.

Diane’s message is affirming, one of advocating from within:

“… go be the person to make sure it doesn't happen to somebody. Go in there and contribute and make a difference and change the system... Don't give up. Just give it all you got. And get the job done.”