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Lore of the corps.

This issue's Lore of the Corps focuses on retired Capt. Rosemary Elaine Nelson Dawson, who completed 26 years of active service and retired in September 1994.

During the early 1990s, NAVSUP continued to assign Supply Corps officers, regardless of race or gender, to positions of importance. Capt. Rosemary Nelson Dawson, the first female Supply Corps officer assigned to sea duty in 1972, was designated Commanding Officer, Navy Regional Contracting Center Washington, in July 1992, the first woman to command a NAVSUP field activity.

Rosemary Dawson has the distinction of having been the first female officer to be assigned to three milestone tours for women in the Supply Corps. She was the first woman assigned as a member of ship's company, the first female instructor at Naval Supply Corps School (NSCS), and the first woman to command a NAVSUP field activity.


Born Rosemary Elaine Nelson in March 1948 in Walla Walla, Wash., she graduated from Fort Wright College, Spokane, Wash., with a B. S. degree in mathematics and a teaching certificate, but decided she would rather travel than teach. She signed up for Officer Candidate School in June 1971, and graduated in February 1972 with a commission as ensign, Supply Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve. Ens. Nelson reported to NSCS in Athens, Ga., where she completed the Basic Qualification Course in September 1972, about the time that woman (other than nurses) were being assigned to ship's companies for the first time. Nelson received orders as disbursing officer and assistant to the supply officer of the hospital ship USS Sanctuary (AH 17), which was undergoing major reconfiguration at Mare Island Naval Shipyard and redesignation as a dependent support ship.

She reported in October, along with several dozen other women, all enlisted personnel. Nelson was the only woman officer aboard the ship until a line LTJG arrived a few months later and nurses returned aboard about a year later. When Sanctuary put to sea on her first coed shakedown cruise after overhaul at Mare Island, Nelson reported that women were in practically every department. She was also assigned additional duty as mess caterer. As the first woman Supply Corps officer of a seagoing Navy vessel, Ens. Nelson was aware of the historic significant of the assignment but in true Navy tradition treated it as a normal tour of duty for which she had been trained. To her, it was only "an exciting new job."

Shortly after Sanctuary returned from her post-yard shakedown cruise, Rosemary Nelson was interviewed by the Oak Leaf, published by the Navy Supply Corps Association. She was, she said, enthusiastic about "getting to use what I learned at Athens." The original plan was to anchor the reconfigured Sanctuary off Piraeus, Greece, to support U.S. personnel stationed in that country through onboard medical, administrative, commissary and exchange facilities. In the event that U.S. forces, with no permanent facilities ashore, would be required to depart Greece suddenly, support activities could just weigh and sail away. The Greek government turned down the idea because it felt the hospital ship's presence could imply planned treatment of casualties from impending hostile U.S. action. An alternate plan was to position Sanctuary with a similar mission off La Maddalena, Sardinia, but the Italian government also rejected the idea, so Sanctuary cruised in both the Pacific and Atlantic, making good will port calls in South America. With her primary mission having evaporated for political reasons, Sanctuary was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for decommissioning. Lt. j.g. Nelson was aboard for the entire period between Sanctuary's recommissioning in 1972 and her decommissioning in 1975.

Nelson had been promoted to lieutenant, junior grade in February 1974 and reported back to Athens in April 1975, breaching another all-male tradition as the first female instructor on the NSCS staff. She was promoted to lieutenant in March 1976 and augmented into the Regular Navy while at NSCS. In June 1977, Lt. Nelson received orders to the Naval Surface Weapons Center (NWSC), White Oak, Md., as naval acquisition contracting officer and Navy intern for acquisition and contracting. Two years later, she was ordered to the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterrey, Calif., and received a M.S. degree in procurement in July 1980.

The next stop for Nelson was the Naval Air Systems Command in September 1980 as contracting officer for the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) Program. She was promoted to lieutenant commander the month following arrival at her Washington duty. At NAVAIR, Lt. Cmdr. Nelson took the HARM missile through its development and saw it deployed with the Fleet. It was also there that she met her future husband, Paul Dawson, also a NAVAIR contracting officer. They were married in September 1983, just as her NAVAIR tour was coming to an end.

As Lt. Cmdr. Rosemary Dawson, she remained in Washington and moved over to the Naval Material Command for a 21-month tour as contract officer. In June 1985, she was ordered to nearby Fort Belvoir, Va., as course director, Program Management course, Defense Systems Management College (DSMC). In the DSMC billet, she was in charge of quality and content of the joint services' major Weapons Systems Program Management Course, required for all program managers responsible for multi-billion dollar weapons systems. She coordinated instruction time for the nine functional academic areas. While in the billet, she was promoted to commander in June 1986. Cmdr. Dawson implemented "Justin-Time" training for an ongoing case study that resulted in greater learning retention. She also instituted instructor training in styles that resulted in developing lessons that would reach all learning styles.

Cmdr. Dawson reported to her fifth consecutive Washington-area duty in August 1989 in a new billet as chief of the Contracting Office, Naval Medical Logistics Command. She was charged with establishing the office, which started with four people with only small purchase authority and grew to 25 professionals with unlimited contracting authority. Her command established seven walk-in clinics throughout the United States, with annual sales volume increasing from $25 million to more than $100 million. The command adopted an acquisition strategy for nationwide drug testing kits, which reduced costs of supplies by approximately 40 percent. Contract awards grew during Cmdr. Dawson's three years in command from $3 million to $120 million. She was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

She achieved another first in July 1992 when she became the first female commanding officer of a NAVSUP field activity as she took command of the Navy Regional Contracting Center Washington, and was promoted to captain in August. In her new billet, Capt. Dawson established customer-oriented goals and objectives and directed a staff of 130 contract professionals.

Under her command, the Contracting Center increased contract awards by 20 percent - from about $320 to $450 million, including information management services, telecommunications, and engineering technical services. The command expanded its customer base by offering nontraditional contacting services and seeking nontraditional customers. Productivity increased 33 percent during Capt. Dawson's tenure, personnel turnover was reduced by 50 percent, and contacting processes were updated.

(From the book "Ready for Sea, The Bicentennial History of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps" by retired Rear Adm. Frank J. Allston, SC, USNR)
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Author:Allston, Frank J.
Publication:Navy Supply Corps Newsletter
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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