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Women's History Month

Meet the Navy’s first female African-American chief warrant officer

Summer Levert is inspired by family, mentors and fellow sailors

In 1997, Cleveland native Summer Levert began her military service in the Army National Guard. Now she’s the first black female boatswain’s mate in the U.S. Navy to hold the position of chief warrant officer.

“I joined the Navy to get out of Cleveland,” Levert said. “I worked two full-time jobs and went to school part time. I needed a change because I was headed down a dead-end street. I followed my twin sister [Dawn Greene] into the Navy.”

She earned the rank of boatswain’s mate — an officer who is the subject-matter expert on all major seamanship functions and the maintenance of topside gear such as small-boat operations, supervising anchoring, mooring, replenishment at sea, towing, transferring of personnel and cargo, and the operation and maintenance of ship’s boats — in October 2000 shortly after she enlisted.

Levert endured some challenges along the way. She worked her way up the ranks to chief petty officer in 2011. But she wanted more, so she set her sights on becoming a chief warrant officer. In 2014, she applied to the chief warrant officer program and was selected.

“I was shocked when I found out, and I still am shocked,” Levert said. “Since I was selected, there have been a few more after me, so I think the Navy finally got it. The Navy focuses on building you up physically and mentally, but they also make sure they educate you and keep your mind sharp. I was 21 when I enlisted, older than my peers. I had to keep them motivated a lot of times because it was their first time away from home.”

Levert recalls her first few days in the service.

“I thought I’d made a huge mistake,” she said. “I was treated like garbage because I was a female. The first thing my chief told me was I was not going to sit around and get pregnant. And if I did, he would send me straight to a ship. Then he told me to go clean his toilet so he could take a crap.”

When achieving success, there are always obstacles to overcome. Some obstacles are harder than others, but Levert continued to use her family, friends and mentors for inspiration to get her where she is today.

“I am inspired by my uncle, who started his career out as a hull technician in the Navy,” Levert explained. “He is now a rocket scientist. My mom was a huge inspiration as well because she was a nurse in the Army Reserves while I was growing up. My twin sister inspired me to join the Navy because she enjoyed her job, traveled often, and was happy.”

Levert said she never aspired to be a first at anything.

“When I was a junior sailor, I was always told that I’d never make it in this field because it is male-dominated,” she explained. “When I did make it, I thought that because the year was 2014 and the Navy so large that there had been a black female before me out there somewhere.”

Levert said she was always told that women in the military use their sexuality to get ahead, which she admits is the biggest misconception people have about black women or women in general in the Navy or armed forces.

The hardest part of military life for Levert is being away from her family for long periods of time during her world travels.

“I’ve traveled to many places while in the Navy,” she said. “A few places that stand out are Spain, Honduras, Greece, Panama, the Bahamas, and Dubai. My favorite port was Panama. The weather was warm, and the food was delicious and cheap.”

She’s never been on the front line of combat, but she’s been deployed to combat zones a few times. She’s currently deployed in a combat zone today. While at sea, she thinks about her favorite things, such as gardening.

“My favorite thing to do when I’m not away from home is gardening. I grow fresh fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers. I love to see the fruits of my labor, literally,” said Levert. “When I retire, I want to have a huge garden and have nothing to worry about but pests and watering.”

The best piece of advice Levert’s ever received is to never quit. It comes from a quote by Harriet Tubman.

“My favorite quote is: ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember: you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.’ ”

Levert is assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde as the ship’s bos’n. The ship’s captain depends on her to execute major seamanship tasks safely and maintain external upkeep of the ship.

“Bos’n is very humble. She believes in hard work and effort and only desires to be measured by her character and deed,” said Lt. Alvin Weidetz III, USS Mesa Verde’s deck department head. “Woe betides the sailor, junior or senior, that steps out of line or throws safety to the wind. But at the end of every evolution, Bos’n will count heads ensuring all are safe and sound, laud each and everyone for their efforts and encourage their improvements to do better.”

In December 2015, she received a plaque of recognition for her service from her hometown by U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio).

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.