By EILEEN BAILEY
AMORY – Who knew that a spur-of-the-moment decision 17 years ago would lead to Mary Ann McCullen’s commission as commander of the Naval Station Pascagoula?
McCullen of Amory will become the commander of the Naval Station Pascagoula on June 19. On leave until she takes her post, McCullen spent a few days at home with her parents, Faith and Ira McCullen of Amory. McCullen is one of four children.
Dressed in casual civilian clothes and surrounded by her parents and her two Westhighland White Terriers, McCullen recently talked about her unusual start in the Navy and the career that has spanned more than 17 years.
The 41-year-old joined the U.S. Navy in 1978. She said one day while visiting Jackson with a former college roommate from Mississippi University for Women, she passed a U.S. Naval Recruiting Office and decided to sign up. Prior to serving in the Navy, McCullen had taught math for two years in the Natchez School District.
After signing up, McCullen was sent to Officer Candidate’s School. From there she served at various bases, including one in San Diego, and attended Naval Post Graduate school. In 1984, she served for two years on the War Plans Department at Pearl Harbor. From 1986 to 1989 McCullen served with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon as an analyst with the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks negotiations. From 1989-1990 she was a fellow at the College International Affairs at Harvard.
From 1990 to 1993 she served as second in command at the Mayport, Fla., Naval base. And since 1993 she has served as the assistant branch head for assignments with the Navy in Washington. During this time she served as a fellow at Massachusetts Institute for Technology in Washington.
McCullen said she was screened two years ago for command, which would allow her to take command of a base. When the opening in Pascagoula came up, she applied.
McCullen will be the third female commander at the station and will take the place of out-going Cmdr. Jan M. Adams. McCullen will serve two years after which she will be eligible for the next rank in the Navy which is captain.
Sexism not a problem
Regardless of sex, those in the Navy have to prove themselves, McCullen said. “I have never worked for anyone who did not let me do my job and give me the freedom to go as far as I could,” she said.
In the last 15 years there have been more and more women in the Navy. There are about 5,000 female officers in the Navy today, she said. And of those, 300 to 400 are female commanders.
Being a commander is an important job, she said. The Amory High School graduate said the role of commander “can make the most difference in someone’s life.”
“I hope that when I leave the base after two years that the people there were given the latitude to be their absolute best,” she said. “I hope to give them the tools and support to be the best sailors in the Navy they can be.”
Naval Station Pascagoula proper will have about 150 people under McCullen’s command. Her command will not cover the six frigates at the base; those are under the command of a separate captain.
Faith McCullen said she is proud of her daughter. “She is a delightful daughter and we are real proud of Mary Ann,” she said. “I always thought she would stick it out.”