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Sailor's Drive Leads Her to Success

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea, June 27, 2007 – When it comes to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Terry Selvera, it’s not her rank that has earned her privileges. It’s her drive.

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Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Terry Selvera speaks during a town hall meeting during her trip to South Korea with the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey. Photo by Fred W. Baker III

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With only five years in the service, the Joint Staff Servicemember of the Year beat out competitors who towered over her in rank and experience.

One of her rewards: two trips of her choice with the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last week, she accompanied Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey on his trip to talk with troops serving in South Korea.

During the trip, Selvera sat at the briefing tables with sergeants major. She shook hands with generals. She received rounds of applause when introduced at every town hall meeting. The trip came with only one caveat. The soft-spoken, but determined, young sailor must tell her story.

So, standing in front of hundreds of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen, Selvera opened the town hall meetings last week for Gainey as he toured camps and bases across the peninsula, telling her story of determination and drive and success.

It’s a story that takes a Texas high-school girl from working part-time stocking shelves in a department store to traveling with the Defense Department’s senior enlisted servicemember and receiving VIP treatment at every dinner, briefing and meeting he attended.

Everywhere Selvera spoke, her message was short, simple and the same.

“Do what you can, to go as far as you can, and get what you want,” she said. “Don’t let anyone stop you.”

That’s it.

Growing up on welfare in Austin, Texas, Selvera said, she knew she wanted something more for her life than “meaningless jobs.”

“I didn’t want that for myself. I wanted to do more. That’s where the drive comes from,” Selvera said. “I don’t want to die not having done anything amazing.”

That led her to knocking on military recruiters’ doors while still a junior in high school. In August 2001 she enlisted into the Navy’s delayed entry program with plans to see the world after graduation.

Her trip to Navy boot camp was the first time Selvera had ever left Texas. Now, Selvera has seen ports of call across the globe – Singapore, Bahrain, Chili, Argentina, Peru, to name a few – and served twice in the Gulf region in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Since joining the Navy, Selvera’s drive and determination have earned her advanced promotions and recognition from her peers and command. She was honor graduate of her Navy yeoman “A” school.

On her path, Selvera said she has come across those who told her that she couldn’t accomplish what she has so far. Selvera said she used that negativity to push her to succeed. Still, Selvera admits she was intimidated by her most recent competitors’ apparent advantages.

“I was so junior. They had a lot more experience than I had. But I didn’t stop. I just keep thinking that I had the same opportunity, the same chance as they did,” she said.

In the end, being junior worked in her favor.

“I went in there and answered the questions from the heart. What I would do, … how I would take care of troops. Just being junior, I knew how I would want to be treated,” she said.

The answer that sealed her win, at least in Gainey’s eyes, was “What would you do if you had a troop with a pay problem?”

One competitor’s response: “I would send them to the PAC (personnel action center).

Selvera’s answer was only slightly different, but made all the difference, Gainey said. “She said I would take them to get the problem fixed,” he said.

When the announcement was made and her name was called, “My jaw hit the floor, because I was standing here with these E-6s who were male, and I’m a female E-5,” she said.

The win made getting up at 3 a.m. to study worth the effort, she said.

Gainey said it was an honor for him and his boss, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, to be in the same room with Selvera when presenting her awards.

“She is our future,” Gainey said.

Selvera called the trip to Korea an “eye-opening experience.”

“Coming here on this trip … I see how much of a big deal this is,” she said. “I represent the Navy and the Joint Staff.

“I always try to put myself around those who I think are great leaders, and I always try to learn different aspects of leadership,” Selvera said. “Being able to travel with Sergeant Major Gainey and seeing how he is with the troops and how he cares for them has definitely made an impact on me.”

Selvera isn’t sure what her future holds, except that she wants to go all the way to the top. She has a packet in for the Navy’s Seaman to Admiral Program, in which she would attend college full time, and after graduating, would become a commissioned officer in the Navy.

If that doesn’t work out, she said, she’s eyeing the top rung of the enlisted ranks.

“If I stay enlisted I’ll strive to be the first female master chief petty officer of the Navy,” she said.

Regardless, only five years out of high school, Selvera already has accomplished more than most of her classmates, and she is proud to wear the uniform when she returns home.

“I came in with really nothing. The Navy has given me everything,” Selvera said. “Being able to wear this uniform and serve this country is just a great honor.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Petty Officer 2nd Class Terry Selvera listens as Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey talks about her accomplishments during one of several town hall meetings he held with servicemembers in South Korea this week. Photo by Fred W. Baker III  
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