By Chris Sholly
Lebanon Daily News, Pa.
Since she was a young girl, Carey D. Lohrenz had set her sights on becoming a U.S. Navy pilot. Getting there wasn’t easy, but she did, making history as the first woman assigned to fly an F-14 Tomcat fighter.
On Thursday, Lohrenz spoke at the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors fall seminar at the Hershey Lodge in Derry Township, where she shared her experiences as well as the lessons she learned during her career as a Navy fighter pilot.
Lohrenz said she was always drawn to naval aviation, particularly because she liked being part of a team. At the University of Wisconsin, Lohrenz was a member of the school’s rowing team.
“I was so focused on a team and an organization that was about mission before self,” she recalled during her speech.
After graduating from college, she applied to the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School, an intense 16-week program that tested her physical and mental abilities. She shared her 10 years of experience as a Navy pilot planning, executing and debriefing complex missions, showing short videos of Navy training and pilots doing their jobs on an aircraft carrier.
“The top of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous industrial work sites in the world,” she said. “So for us, to be able to operate in an excellent manner and to be able to learn continually and communicate with each other effectively is critical to our day-to-day operations.”
To be successful, Lohrenz said, leaders need to focus on what matters and to focus on one mission. On the aircraft carrier, it is the safe takeoff and landing of the planes, she said.
“You can’t have 10 missions, because then you’re going to be overwhelmed with the number of priorities and your team is not going to be aligned on what the most important desired outcome is,” she said.
Lohrenz emphasized the need to execute missions with purpose, focus and discipline, as well as communicating with each other to accomplish a job.
Another key point to success, she said, is to fearless. Many people fear failure and so try to avoid it, she said.
“By avoiding it, we end up passing up really valuable opportunities. What we don’t recognize is that our ability to recover from failure is much stronger than we give ourselves credit for,” she said.
It’s important to learn from our failures and turn them into something positive, which will give us more confidence, she said.
“Failure will happen … but it’s what you do with it that will define you,” she added. “Those people who are the most successful are the ones who are the most fearless.”
She encouraged the audience to be tenacious and persistent “no matter how many obstacles are thrown in front of you.”
After finishing her flight training, she recalled, her commanding officer told her that she could not become a fighter pilot because the government at the time did not allow women in combat. She was told to get out of the Navy or find another job. But after thinking about it, she said she told her commanding officer, “I don’t want to get out of the Navy and I don’t want a non-flying job. We need to find a third way.”
Lohrenz said she stayed focused on her goal. A month later, she said Congress changed the clause in the regulation, which allowed to reach her goal.
Today, she lives with her family in Germantown, Tenn., and is currently working on her master’s in business administration in strategic leadership. She is the author of “Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck,” which is available online or in book stores. A portion of the proceeds of the book will be donated to veteran non-profit organizations. For more information, go to www.careylohrenz.com.