Editor’s Note: This story was updated after the Navy corrected itself to say Saunders is the first active duty gunner’s mate to advance.
For the first time, the Navy has tapped an active duty female gunner’s mate for promotion to master chief petty officer.
Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate Jessica Saunders, who enlisted in the Navy in 2002, screened for E-9 on May 23, according to the Navy.
“This is not only a significant milestone for my naval career, but also for all Sailors,” Saunders said in a Navy news release. “The glass ceiling is shattered! From the day I enlisted, I understood that with hard work, motivational leadership and a warfighter mentality, I could achieve my goals and help better our Navy for future generations.”
Gunner’s mates are responsible for the operation and maintenance of missile launch systems, underwater explosive weapons, gun mounts and other ordnance equipment.
Saunders has served aboard the fast combat support ship Sacramento, the destroyer Cole, and the cruisers Cowpens and Lake Champlain. Other assignments include serving with Naval Air Station Sigonella’s weapons department, Naval Station Mayport Security Detachment, Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One, and Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
She became an ammunition supply administration and ordnance officer instructor and ETD departmental leading petty officer at Surface Combat Systems Training Command San Diego in February.
“Back in the 1990s when I reported aboard my first ship as gunnery officer, there were no females at that time in the armory,” said Capt. Justin Long, commanding officer of the San Diego training command. “As I retire later this summer from the Navy, I’m so proud to see outstanding Sailors and leaders, like GMCS Saunders, at the highest levels of their communities.”
Saunders’ selection comes after the Navy revamped promotions to master chief petty officer this spring, when it unveiled the Senior Enlisted Marketplace that aims to eliminate gaps at sea.
The screening board evaluates board-eligible E-8s who, if selected, will receive access to the marketplace to apply for a qualified billet. Sailors have 24 months to enter one of the 10 MyNavy Assignment cycles to apply for any jobs in the marketplace aligned with their ratings. Detailers will coordinate billet alignment and complete additional matching for the sailor’s next assignment.
“We are completely transforming the way we’re doing business,” Force Master Chief Chris Detje with Navy Personnel Command told reporters this month. “You’re gonna get the right person, at the right place, at sea, in critical billets in a timely manner. This is groundbreaking.”
There were 9,000 sea-duty gaps, or empty billets, within operational units as of November 2022, the Navy previously told Navy Times. The number of operational sea duty gaps fluctuates based on permanent change of stations, ship decommissioning, or ships moving into a maintenance availability.