Navy veteran reflects on decades of change for women

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – As she remembers it, the recruiting slogan sold Jo-Anne Teel: Join the Navy, See the World.

From 1973 to 1993, she did just that. But she got much more out of the Navy: Teel climbed the ranks, met her husband, got married, deployed on ships, and had children, all at a time when that combination was novel.

Teel’s story is part of 10 On Your Side’s celebration of the centennial anniversary of Naval Station Norfolk, which coincides with 100 years of women serving the Navy.

Born and raised in a small town in western New York, Teel didn’t see herself as a pioneer when she enlisted in the early 70s. At the time, she was two years past high school and working in a car radio factory

“I had a cousin in town who had just joined the Navy and he said, ‘Why don’t you join?’ And I was like, ‘Okay let’s give it a shot,'” Teel said. “It was something to do to make a life.”

Teel never thought she’d last as long as she did, or be promoted as high as she was. At her first command, she was surprised to earn the rank of Petty Officer Third Class. Ten years later, she was the only woman at her command to be promoted to Chief.

Also remarkable: Teel achieved all of this professionally while she became a mother.

The birth of her daughters came just after the Navy changed its policy about pregnancy.

Had they been born before 1975, Teel would have been discharged from the Navy for being pregnant.

Teel remembers serving with another married couple who began having children before the policy change. The wife had to leave the Navy, but the husband continued serving.

“Years later, I was at the same command as he was. We were stationed together and made chief at that same time. So I often wondered, had she been able to stay in, would she be up there with us as well?”

Before she retired in 1993, Teel experienced other major changes, like the gradual recognition and rejection of sexual harassment.

At her first command, Teel remembers sailors lining up to check out the “fresh meat.”

For awhile, working in the kitchen and wearing the regulation skirt uniform, she recalls feeling uncomfortable and disrespected when men would come watch her and other women at work.

“Back then, it was more accepted that they could do that, that it was okay to check you out,” she said.

By 1985, Teel was serving as a sexual harassment prevention officer. That’s a position and a phrase that didn’t even exist when she enlisted.

“It seems weird, like why didn’t we have a choice?” she said of the harassment early on in her career. “Why didn’t we know it was wrong?”

Still, Teel believes the Navy women of today are even stronger than she was, and she’s proud to see so many climbing the ranks.

“When I made chief, that was a big deal for me, because there were only a handful of us around,” she said. “Now, there’s captains, there’s admirals, it’s incredible. I’m in awe every time I go someplace and see them together.”

Next week on WAVY, meet the woman who made it possible for Teel and every other female sailor to serve on ships.