While en route to Scotland on the USS Simon Lake, Pam Hatt witnessed a sight many nature lovers would consider a bucket-list item.
Hatt and her team were fixing lighting on an upper deck when they saw a pod of gray whales swimming alongside the ship.
“For about 10 minutes we got to bask in the beauty of the bluest of darkest blue water, with this pod of whales cruising along next to us, coming up for air, and then going back down,” recalls Hatt, vice president of marketing at $2.3 billion asset Pen Air Credit Union in Pensacola, Fla. “It was peaceful, quiet, and grand.”
Hatt had that experience because, after completing three years of college, she changed course and joined the U.S. Navy in 1985. After completing boot camp and attending electronics and electricity school, she was assigned to Naval Station Pascagoula in Mississippi and the Simon Lake.
Hatt worked in engineering, where the team’s responsibility was to keep the ship’s power running. When docked, the ship functioned as a submarine tender and dropped shore power cables to submarines that came into the lock.
“I learned the importance of sticking to the job until it was done well and right,” she says. “There were days where we would work 72 hours straight to get something done because it was important that the ship worked. We would power through and do long hours. I still function that way, which is a little crazy.”
In addition to trips to Holy Loch in Scotland, Hatt also travelled to Charleston, S.C., and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on missions to work on various ships.
Hatt had planned to retire from the military after a long career. But she married a Marine who served on the ship guarding nuclear weapons, and it was difficult to have both spouses assigned to the same base or duty stations near each other.
Hatt, who was a petty officer third class, decided to leave the Navy after three years.
While playing basketball in high school and college taught her leadership lessons, it was her time where Hatt learned about communication, adaptability, commitment, and discipline.
“Everybody was counting on me to do my job and I was counting on everybody else to do their job,” she says. “That’s when you start looking at things differently as a leader. The depth and gravity of what I had committed to do should the need arise made everything hypersensitive.”