Cole sails IT-21 to Seventh Fleet

ABOARD THE USS BLUE RIDGE—Cmdr. Pat Cole, fleet information systems officer for the Navy's Seventh Fleet, knows all too well the problems and difficulties involved in translating the grand vision of the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21) project into reality.

"No one has ever done this before.... It was a real challenge," Cole said, describing her experience in supervising the installation and operation of high-speed networks based on commercial off-the-shelf technology on this and other ships in the Seventh Fleet.

Off-the-shelf networking systems, which the Navy high command believes will help it keep pace with technology while costing far less than Navy-

designed systems, have their own problems when inserted into a shipboard environment, Cole said. She said "unexpected environmental conditions" as well as instances of faulty shipboard wiring made her work significantly tougher.

Despite the difficulties of installing and maintaining often sensitive COTS gear in a harsh environment, Cole observed that "this is not rocket science"—an apt metaphor considering her background. She has a master's degree in space systems and has spent much of her career, including a stint at a Defense Department facility in Woomera, Australia, working with Defense Support Program satellites designed to detect missile launches.

Cole is no stranger to tough challenges either. She is a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy—only the third class to enroll women—when women had to not only excel but excel in the face of difficult circumstances created by those who believed women had no place in the Academy. In Cole's case, those difficult circumstances also included the death of her father, Charles Howard Cole, an Army Airborne Ranger who was killed in a training accident in Panama the summer before she entered the Academy.

"But my father did know I had been accepted to the Academy [before he died]," Cole said, quickly adding that her one regret was that her father did not get to attend her graduation.

Have Navy Career, Will Travel

Cole, who will take over leadership of the Fleet Surveillance Support Command in Chesapeake, Va., later this summer, relishes her Navy career. Thanks to her tour on the Blue Ridge, as well as her prior tour in Australia, she has been able to travel throughout the Far East. And a stint at a naval facility in Italy provided her with more travel opportunities in Europe. "The Navy has been very good to me," she said.

One of the things Cole liked about her tour in Australia was the opportunity to work in an environment different from the one she was used to for most of her life. "Every night [that] I was at Woomera, I would go out and look at the Southern Cross," she said, referring to the constellation visible only south of the equator. She described her tour at Woomera, located in the Australian Outback, as a "unique experience" and said she was thankful to have had a chance to live and work in an unusual environment.

In her spare time, Cole raises and shows collies and likes to read fiction, relying on Oprah Winfrey's book club to lead her to a favorite, Under the Tuscan Sky, by Frances Mayes. Her musical tastes run toward the classical, ranging from Handel's "Water Music" to Beethoven's Ninth.

Although justifiably proud of her accomplishments in the Navy, and especially at the Academy at a time when women were less than welcome, Cole does not flaunt her achievements.

Pointing to her Academy ring, Cole said, "I've never knocked this," referring to a practice engaged in by some graduates to call attention to their successful attendance at the Navy's premiere school by loudly wrapping their rings on their desktops. But Cole joked that her mother, Margaret Ann Cole, does not have the same reticence. "My mother manages to work into every conversation the fact that her daughter is a Naval Academy graduate," she said.


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