NORFOLK – Margaret "Peggy" Hickey enlisted in the Navy May 20, 1977 out of West Haverstraw, NY. At 23, she was older than the average recruit, having worked at IBM for three years prior to joining the Navy. Asked why she joined the Navy, Hickey said "the guy that I was dating went into the Army and broke by heart, so I figured I'd fix him [by joining the Navy]" she recalled with a laugh.
Asked about challenges she faced as a female, Hickey recalled "My very first duty station, when I checked aboard I was a seaman recruit and I was met by my leading petty officer. He put his finger in my chest and said "I don't like women in the Navy and as far as I'm concerned you belong at home, barefoot and pregnant. Now here, go fill my coffee cup." Hickey says he then shoved his coffee cup in her face." With a chuckle, she added "I've often wondered why I stayed in the navy for 31 years after that."
She not only stayed in the Navy, she accomplished things few, if any, had accomplished before, male or female. Hickey would work her way up through every enlisted rank, from E-1 to E-9. Her enlisted service culminated with an assignment as the Command Master Chief aboard the USS Butte. Her career could have ended there and been viewed by anyone as a complete success. But Hickey wasn't finished. From Master Chief, she was commissioned into the Chief Warrant Officer ranks.
"Usually, Chiefs and a few Senior Chiefs become Chief Warrant Officers. I'm not aware of any other Master Chief [that became a Chief Warrant Officer]. I may not have been the first, however" Hickey continues "I was initially promoted to CWO-2, but shortly thereafter, one of my most respected leaders, Captain (later Rear Admiral) Stephen A. Turcotte told me that because I was a Master Chief I should have been promoted directly to CWO3. The Navy Board of Corrections agreed and I was soon promoted to CW03, backdated to the day I was promoted to CWO2."
Hickey has tremendous respect for Admiral Turcotte. "As a Captain, he was my Commanding Officer at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville [FL]." Hickey said "I had a set of dream orders for Cuba when CAPT Turcotte called me and said "I'm going to ask you to put your personal life on hold. I need you to take over as the Officer-In-Charge of the brig here." Hickey continued, "At the time, I was a brand new warrant officer, I had no experience running a brig, and I was being asked to fill a Commander's billet. I was pretty scared, but it worked out for a couple of reasons. One, I had a fantastic Senior Chief that showed me the ropes. The other thing was that CAPT Turcotte empowered me. I must have called him a dozen times that first week before he said, "I put you in that job because I have full faith and confidence in you. You don't have to tell me everything. You make the decisions…and if something comes back at us, I'm here to deflect it from you. I've got your back."
During her retirement ceremony Monday at the Joint Forces Staff College, the Commandant, Major General Byron S. Bagby, U.S. Army, presented Hickey with the Meritorious Service Medal and letters from the Chief of Naval Operations, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and from the Governor of New York.
"CWO5 Hickey has blazed many trails in her long and illustrious career," said Bagby "She not only attained the highest enlisted rank, she also attained the highest Chief Warrant Officer rank. I don't think anyone has ever done that. She has done an outstanding job as the security director for the Staff College and the regional Naval Support Activity. She has my upmost respect."
Joining General Bagby and CWO5 Hickey on stage was Commander [retired] Jennifer Brooks, USN. Hickey said Brooks was a tremendous mentor and that she definitely made a significant difference in her life. "It was different working for a woman" said Hickey "Women think differently that men do. I always thought that it was me, because I always worked with guys, and guys do things differently. Working for CDR Brooks, I remember thinking "Holy Cow, she thinks like I do."
During her retirement ceremony, Hickey said "For me, it's always been about the people that worked for me. It's never been about me."