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Trailblazer – First Female Executive Officer aboard USS Constitution

USS Constitution, berthed in Boston, Massachusetts, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat and America’s Ship of State. Built in 1797, she and her crew fought in the War of 1812 and participated in antislavery patrols off the coast of Africa prior to the US Civil War.

Commander Claire Bloom joined the crew of USS Constitution in 1996, she was the first female Navy officer to do so. At just shy of 200 years, Old Ironsides welcomed its first female Sailor onboard. Denise Krepp, NHHC’s Director Action Group, sat down with Cmdr. Bloom and asked her about her trailblazing experience.

U.S. Navy photo

Q: Why did you join the Navy?

Bloom: When I was 34 years old I was getting very bored working for the company that I’d been working for for three years. I decided that I needed to do something different, and that if my job wasn’t different, at least with the military I would be moving from one place to another. So I went down to join the Army, but I couldn’t find the Army recruiting office. I asked the Navy recruiter where the Army recruiting office was, and he directed me, but said “if you don’t like what they say you come back and talk to me.” I did not like what the Army recruiter had to say, so I went back to the Navy recruiter and said, OK tell me what you can do for me.  He hooked me up with a couple of officer recruiters and the rest is history!

Q: What was your first job in the Navy?

Bloom: After I finished Officer Candidate School, my first assignment was at the Fleet Intelligence Center, Europe and Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia. I selected that job because it was supposed to be a computer job. It was 1981 and I was anxious to learn how to do some cool things with computers. But of course, when I got to the command, the commanding officer had other plans for me. He assigned me to the order of battle department where I was responsible for keeping count of ships, airplanes, submarines, etc., and watching out for sinkings, crashes, and other events that occurred to the naval equipment of various navies. I worked with a great group of people. We had a lot of fun and I learned all kinds of wonderful interesting new things.

Q: What are some other roles you held, leading up to your time on USS Constitution?

Bloom: Working in the women’s policy department, I was the Deputy Director of Women’s Policy, was probably one of the greatest jobs that I had, amongst a lot of very cool jobs. I worked directly under Kathy Bruyere, who worked directly for Admiral Boorda when he was a Chief of Naval Personnel. Our job was to advise him and advise the Secretary of the Navy on how they could implement policies for the advancement of women in the Navy. It was tremendously exciting times and we were responsible for getting the first women assigned to combatants, which was for us, a very big deal.

Q: What was it like to be the first female officer of USS Constitution?

Bloom: Being the first female officer on USS Constitution was incredible, and by far, my favorite job of all the cool jobs I had in the military. As the executive officer, I was directly responsible for the planning and implementation of the plan when we sailed the ship for the first time in 116 years. There is nothing cooler than that – taking Old Ironsides out on her own power. I worked with a tremendous crew of roughly 60 Sailors, one command senior chief, and one commanding officer. I was his executive officer, second in command. I am still in touch with many of the sailors from the Constitution, and we had a 20-year reunion in 2017. It was a tremendous opportunity, and one I will never forget.

U.S. Navy photo

Q: If you could go back in time, what job would you have asked for in the Navy and why?

Bloom: I honestly believe that the jobs that I had were the best in the Navy, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. Absolutely the job on Constitution was the pinnacle of my career and the job from which I retired in 1998.

Q: What advice do you have for women serving in the Navy now?

Bloom: I think the advice that I have for women in the Navy is the same advice that I would have for everybody in the Navy. I don’t think there should be separate advice for women as opposed to men, or separate jobs for women as opposed to men, or separate anything for women than for men. That being said I would tell everyone serving in the Navy to look around them and to do the very best they can, remember that they are a team and operate as a team. They should look to their leaders for advice but don’t be afraid to tell your chain of command if you think something could be better or could be improved. Mostly just do your absolute best, and expect that it’s going to be hard work, but that the rewards will be worth it.