Norfolk, Virginia - BMCS Crystal Briggs’ selection as a Capt. Joy Bright Hancock and Master Chief Anna Der-Vartanian Leadership Award winner probably only comes as a surprise to Briggs. The imprint of her work seems to be everywhere she has been in the Navy.
“She consistently sets the example for women in the Navy,” said her supervisor, Deputy Director for Afloat Assessment, Cmdr. Chris Tarsa. “When I think of Senior Chief Briggs, I think ‘unrestrained resourcefulness,’ ‘impact player’ and ‘up for any challenge.’ She is inspiring and innovative.”
Naval Safety Center’s Afloat Community Programs Deck Analyst, Briggs has spent a 17-year career of learning, passing along to others, and leading in a way to draw positive attention to others. Tarsa pushed her to complete her nomination package – she didn’t want the recognition. In its notification, the 21st Century Sailor Office called Briggs’ winning nomination a “standout.”
“I was speechless at first,” Briggs said. “I didn’t know what to say.”
Hailing from Prince Frederick, Md., Briggs has been cutting a wake for other women to follow in the male-dominated world of boatswain’s mates since she joined the Navy in 2001. Through an infectious positive attitude, Briggs has become one of the nine females among 138 senior chief boatswain’s mates.
“Find the positive in every situation,” Briggs said. “If you do, people will follow you everywhere.”
She joined the Navy hungering for more challenges.
“I wanted some structure in my life and the Navy gave it to me,” said Briggs, who was processing into the Navy, preparing to leave for Recruit Training Command, on 9/11.
Choosing apprentice training over a guaranteed job in the Navy, she completed recruit training, apprenticeship training and was off to Bath, Maine, to help pre-commission USS McCampbell (DDG 85). Undesignated and without a ship to board, Briggs was assigned to the deck department in the ship’s ashore office, where her eagerness to learn paid off. She absorbed everything the Navy taught her.
“My BM2 handed me a book and told me to read it and understand what it says,” Briggs said. “I did, and the Basic Seamanship book was fascinating to me.”
Next, she was given the BM3 & 2 book, and by March 2002 successfully tested for BM3. Now aboard ship, she wanted to soak up every learning opportunity she could, so Briggs qualified Master Helmsman (one of only two aboard McCampbell), was put in charge of the flight deck and qualified quickly for Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist. She promoted to BM2 on her first try, too.
After four deployments on McCampbell, Briggs wanted to move to another sea assignment. She was sent ashore, but less than a year later she negotiated orders to pre-commission USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and was able to get a spot in Surface Search and Rescue (SAR) school, training coveted by boatswain’s mates, but never before given to women.
“It was hard, but I had so much fun as a SAR swimmer,” Briggs said.
While on New Orleans, she promoted to BM1 and qualified as a Well Deck Control Officer.
“People don’t remember what you say, they remember what you did,” Briggs said.
After her time aboard New Orleans, she moved ashore to the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC) and proceeded to set San Diego on fire, after a fashion. She was a member of the Uptown Optimist Club and established a First Class Petty Officer Association. Briggs was twice named Senior Sailor of the Quarter, was the 2011 Woman of the Year at SWRMC and was the 2012 Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Women Moving Forward recipient. And, she promoted to BMC there, too. Along the way, she continually trained, mentored, corrected and applauded the Sailors around her.
“Sailors I’ve worked with still call and ask for my help,” Briggs said, noting that she gets a lot of satisfaction from knowing her former Sailors ask for her advice.
Oh, and she found time to finish an associates of arts in 2011 as well as a bachelor’s in criminal justice administration and management in 2013.
Before joining Naval Safety Center, she also served at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, USS Decatur (DDG 73) and USS Somerset (LPD 25). And, while at Naval Safety Center, Briggs has graduated from the Senior Enlisted Academy.
“I have been blessed,” Briggs said. “I wouldn’t change any of it, even the negative things. It gave me the experience to be a good leader.”
Briggs, mother of five, will be honored at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium, Aug. 22 and 23 in Washington, D.C. While in the capital, Briggs plans on visiting Arlington National Cemetery, where the award’s namesake is buried.
“I read up on her, and she is an amazing woman,” Briggs said.
YNCM Anna Der-Vartanian served in the Navy from 1943- 1963, and was the first woman in the armed forces to promote to E-9 in 1959, and has been hailed as the woman who broke the glass ceiling for woman Sailors.
In some ways, Briggs is following in Der-Vartanian’s footsteps. A can-do attitude, team player, grit and determination have added up to recognition as the Navy’s top female senior enlisted leader in 2019.
“She is exceptional and sets a high standard for others to emulate,” Tarsa said.
And those standards come from a pretty basic mind set.
“It’s amazing the things you can accomplish when you put your heart into it,” Briggs said.
Her heart does seem to be in her job.