The four Navy officers, who are all women of color, will command warships at the same time for the first time in Naval history

By Joelle Goldstein
March 26, 2021 04:10 PM
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Four female officers are making historic strides for women of color in the Navy — and if you ask them, it certainly won't be the last time.

Commander Jones, Commander Simpson, Commander O'Cañas and Commander Wijnaldum are the trailblazing officers who will lead warships at the same time for the first time in Naval history.

The women, who are all based at the Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia, sat down for an interview with Lester Holt that will air on NBC Nightly News Friday, and opened up about how much has changed for women in the service and their hopes for the next generation.

"[The Navy] looks different in the fact that as an ensign, I looked around and at that time, there were not many senior female officers that I could necessarily go to for gender-specific questions," Commander Jones, who joined the Navy in 1999, says in a clip shared exclusively with PEOPLE.

Female Navy Officers
Three of the four Naval officers
| Credit: NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

"I may not have felt comfortable asking my male boss," she continues. "Now, to their credit, they were phenomenal leaders. However, when it came time [for] some of those more intimate conversations on how to plan your career with a family, as a mom, that did not exist."

"And I was overseas, so the population was slightly smaller," she adds. "And now walking this waterfront, there are leaders, there are role models, at every rank, in every rate. That is something that I hope ensigns, young sailors, gravitate towards and take advantage of."

During their conversation, the women also speak candidly about their accomplishments — all are nuclear-qualified commanders, which means their next duty station could involve an aircraft carrier — and the importance of promoting STEM education to women.

Female Navy Officers
Commander Simpson
| Credit: NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

For Commander Simpson, she says she was never personally discouraged from achieving her goals but didn't have many female leaders to look up to or emulate.

Despite that, Simpson says she's hopeful for the future of women in the service.

"The Navy has been very supportive of my journey and my professional training. There weren't any voices in the Navy that said that I could not achieve this goal," Simpson says. "The only limitation was the fact that women as a whole hadn't been on board combatant vessels until, I believe, it was 1994."

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"When I was an ensign, there hadn't been enough time that had passed in the Navy since the first women were allowed on combatant ships to even get to levels of leadership; where I, as an ensign, could even emulate them," she continues. "There just hadn't been enough time."

"But I believe with the passing of time and the further we get away from that date of women being allowed on combatant ships, I think you will see more women in the ranks," Simpson adds. "And that will drive a greater encouragement for women to stay in."

For more of Holt's conversation with the four Naval commanders, tune into NBC Nightly News tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.