Women’s History Month Spotlight: Martha Monahan
“WoVen Together” – Martha Monahan served in the Navy for 24 years and today supports other veteran women through WoVeN.
Even in the face of adversity, Martha Monahan has never taken half-measures. Joining the Navy in 1985, at just 21 years old, her first duty station was in Newport, Rhode Island. Posted as a gate sentry, she wanted to be on a ship.
A year later, she made Boatswain’s Mate, a rank that is at the heart of every ship. This all-around sailor must know how to replenish supplies while at sea, practice search and rescue, and participate in ceremonies. A few years later, Operation Desert Storm launched, and Monahan found herself deployed off the coast of Kuwait as oil fires burned onshore.
Recovery, Strength, and Making the Grade
In 1992, Monahan returned to shore duty, traveled the world from Japan to Kuala Lumpur, and met her husband, John. But, in that same year, after getting a reprimand for drinking, her commanding officer sent her to rehab.
“It was the best thing that happened to me. I celebrated 30 years of sobriety this past August,” she says. “I talk about it in the Women Veteran Network (WoVeN) about it… And I have been able to mentor others through my experiences. To be able help others is the biggest gift.”
With her newfound clarity and her perpetual drive, Monahan worked for years to earn the Chief Select title, one of the most elite enlisted ranks in the Navy. Despite being only five feet tall, Monahan was determined to prove that she could do it. She fought tooth and nail to be considered a good sailor.
“’Oh, you don’t think I do this?’,” she quips. “’Watch me.’ I was up to the challenge, and I wanted to prove them wrong.”
She recalls the day that the skipper called her into his office. “The commanding officer looks at me and addressed me: ‘Petty Officer Monahan or, should I say, Chief Select Monahan.’”
Find Your Tribe
Monahan joined WoVeN in 2019 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She was asked reach out to another woman experiencing what was thought, at the time, to be multiple sclerosis. Monahan knew that pain. She, too, was diagnosed with MS about 14 months after she retired.
That small group of women were vital for Monahan to move forward.
She wanted to do for others what had been done for her, so she became an apprentice WoVen peer leader. During that instruction, her trainer Val Harvey nominated Monahan to be a national trainer.
“I was in a hotel with 77 other women veterans — from Vietnam to Enduring Freedom — all ages, all branches, all generations. I had found my tribe.”
That group of women helped me immeasurably. Their support and their love, it didn’t matter what you’re going through, we’re there for you.”