As a recent high school graduate from a small North Carolina town, Tanya Allbritten had choices to make.
Even with a small scholarship and a grant, it wasn’t enough to bankroll her college tuition. That left her with just a few options. She could continue to work on a farm, as she had while in high school. She could get a job in the local mill. Or she could follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and join the Navy.
“My grandfather had served in the Navy and a ‘life at sea’ was very appealing to me. Well, more appealing than working on the farm or in a mill,” Allbritten said jokingly.
That early career choice eventually led Allbritten to U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command where she serves as a supervisory human resources specialist and the chief of training for G-1.
Allbritten joined the Navy in March 1993. She did well on her entrance exams and had several career fields to choose from. She chose the intelligence field.
“I started out as a cryptologic technician, breaking codes and doing analytic work. I had a top-secret clearance. I thought that was pretty cool,” she said.
After her initial training, Allbritten was assigned to Warfighter Signal Intelligence Support Center in Misawa, Japan. While there, she volunteered to brief the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during his visit to Japan. Allbritten said she didn’t realize what a “big deal” and subsequent opportunity that was for a young petty officer.
“My knees were shaking, but I gave a pretty good brief,” she said. Afterward, a Marine warrant officer offered Allbritten a unique career opportunity.
“They needed someone to train a purple team – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines,” she said. “I provided strategic planning for exercises that included joint forces and allies across the Pacific.”
A week after accepting the position, Allbritten was transferred to Kunia Regional Signal Operations Center in Oahu, Hawaii. For the rest of her 10-year Navy career, he scripted events for major exercises, including Cobra Gold and Ulchi Focus Lens.
Allbritten made the best of that career opportunity. Although she was a junior-enlisted sailor working with much more senior officers, she strived to be a team player and a valued asset to the team. She learned both her job and the jobs of her colleagues. She went above and beyond in her duties, taking notes, attending planning meetings and even mentoring some of the junior officers as they came onboard.
“I learned the importance of self-development and cross-training. In the Navy, you have to know everyone's job around you. If someone gets sick or injured when you're out at sea, you have to be able to pick up task and drive on.
“I became a trusted agent, one of the go-to people for exercises in our command. It was either that or I’d be relegated to making coffee and sharpening pencils,” she joked.
While assigned to Kunia, Allbritten spent two weeks of each month on temporary duty, time she spent learning more about the exercises and her command. For the res t of her career she had the opportunity to work with military and civilian personnel around the world.
Reflecting on her Navy career, Allbritten said she has many fond memories and lifelong friendships.
“I miss the comradery of military service. I think it's one of the most special things about serving in the military. I've never had friends since, like I did when I was in the Navy,” she said. “It's hard to explain other than I trusted them with my life. We served together and that bonded us. Now, even though we've all moved on and live in different parts of the country, we're still close because of that bond.”
The Navy taught Allbritten invaluable skills that opened many doors for her. Learning to train people and teams has carried over into her civilian career. She also learned to take care of people and work as a member a team.
“I was proud to serve my country. I know that's cliché but it's absolutely true,” she said. “The Navy is known for its comradery and it actively teaches that from boot camp through schools and into active service. You never leave someone in your unit behind. We worked together, socialized together and took care of one another,” she explained. “When you're in cramped spaces onboard a ship, you better know how to get along, otherwise you're going to have a long, miserable tour of duty.”
These days, Allbritten said she enjoys taking care of people and helping them with their career choices and professional development. She said she’s very satisfied with how her life and career have turned out and she’s honored to still serve alongside our great military.
Allbritten said she sometimes wishes she had stayed and retired from the Navy. But she also knows that would have led her to a different path. In her current position with the G-1, Allbritten employs the skills the Navy taught her: training and working well with people.
Looking back she said she is happy with her choice to join the Navy. She learned many life lessons, and – most importantly – she made her grandfather very proud.