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Meet Lieutenant Cait Cunningham

Cicero native is the Operations Officer of the USS Halsey in Pearl Harbor.

Writer / Allison Yates

Lieutenant Cait Cunningham from Cicero, Indiana, is the Operations Officer on the guided missile destroyer USS Halsey out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

After graduating from Hamilton Heights High School, Cunningham joined the ROTC and studied marketing at Colorado University. She went into her obligatory four years of service, first spending three years on a destroyer in Yokosuka, Japan. Thinking she’d gain skills to later start her own business, she soon realized she loved being in the military.

She then spent two years as a navigator for USS Port Royal in Pearl Harbor, followed by getting her masters in national security strategy and teaching advanced seamanship at the naval academy in Annapolis for three years. Cunningham spent another year in Rhode Island before moving back to Pearl Harbor to work as the Operations Officer for the USS Halsey.

None of those jobs related to Cunningham’s degree in marketing, forcing Cunningham to be an adept, quick learner.

“There’s a very stressful learning curve,” she explained about the on the job training that is required of military personnel.

Cunningham is motivated and dedicated, but she gives a lot of credit to the Cicero community for providing the space for leadership development early in life. Going to a high school like Hamilton Heights, Cunningham says she had the chance to be involved in sports and student government.

Besides that, Cunningham says she learned valuable lessons from growing up in a community like Cicero. Because it’s a relatively small town, people remember your actions. She has a strong sense of the importance of being kind to people and recognizes its value in being able to get things done. She expressed her upmost gratitude for the Cicero schools, town, friends and family.

As the department head in charge of around 90 people, Cunningham has a job crucial to the success of the ship. There are differences between when a ship is at port and at sea, but either way Cunningham has a lot to supervise. More than 300 people work aboard, and that number jumps to 375 when a helicopter embarks. As the person who coordinates the ship schedule, she oversees what each different department is doing and makes sure everything is in order for each piece of the puzzle to be executed properly.

As a leader, Cunningham believes that good communication and integrity are fundamental to a good team. Being honest and forthright are not only moral issues, but on a ship like the USS Halsey, also safety issues.

“If there’s a problem and someone makes a mistake, and they’re forthright, you can go ahead and fix it instead of covering it up,” Cunningham says.

The military always requires people with integrity, but now more than ever. Cunningham’s ship is currently training for deployment. They have six months to prepare before inspection. There are many things to coordinate and figure out what to prioritize before embarking on a tour through Asia and around to the Middle East. Cunningham says that journey is a long reach they must prepare for.

Cunningham says that her crew members go above and beyond. They’re working 12-hour days, and the sacrifice is much higher than most civilian jobs.

“I’m constantly amazed at what the people on the ship can do without complaint, and do good at it,” Cunningham says.

People often have a skewed perspective of what it means to be in the military. Often these stereotypes take the shape of the extremity of navy seals or the idea of the lazy administrative worker. Cunningham wishes people could see the diversity of jobs that exist within the military to “get a better idea to what people are willing to do out here for them.”

About Allison Yates

Allison is an English teacher and freelance writer who focuses on travel and human rights. She's a Hoosier from Fishers but has lived in Argentina, Spain and Australia.

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