Darlene Iskra joined the Navy in 1979, at a time when opportunities for women were growing quickly, she says, and she took advantage of everything she could.
After a year of training, Iskra became a Diving Officer, one of the first three female officers to do so. Her first assignment was as the diving officer on USS Hector, a World War II vintage repair ship. Homeported in San Francisco Bay, she and her crew were the only diving locker in Northern California, conducting repairs and hull inspections on Navy ships stationed in Alameda, Mare Island, and Oakland. They also deployed to the western Pacific, working in Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Kenya, New Zealand, and Samoa.
Iskra then moved to shore duty as an instructor in San Diego, but as soon as more ships opened to women, she requested a transfer. Back at sea, she served as Operations Officer on the USS Grasp during the ship's pre-commissioning and through its first year of commissioned service. Iskra was then selected for Executive Officer afloat, and served on two different ships, first on the USS Preserver and then on USS Hoist.
In 1990, Iskra was selected for Commanding Officer afloat, the first woman to command a commissioned vessel of the U.S. Navy. She reported for duty on the USS Opportune on December 27, 1990 in Naples, Italy. Seventeen days later, she and her crew were underway in support of Operation Desert Storm. While in command, the ship also took part in Hurricane Andrew relief operations in Miami, Florida. Iskra's Commanding Officer tour lasted 26 months, and she then assumed shore duty for the remaining 21 years of her service.
After the Navy, Iskra used the GI Bill to go to graduate school and earned her Ph.D. in Sociology with a specialty in Military Sociology and Gender, Work, and Family. She later taught for 10 years and wrote two books about women in the military. Iskra also edited two books for the Women Divers Hall of Fame and is a motivational speaker. "The Navy changed my life," says Iskra. "It gave my life purpose and a sense of honor."
Watch Iskra talk about her pride in being a U.S. Navy veteran.