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Saluting Civil Servants

Frances Goodwin Holt

It has been 50 years, but Frances Goodwin Holt can still recall her first day of work at the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Va.—that’s how bad it was. From the first person she met when she walked through the door to the supervisor who would later become her mentor, everyone cast doubt on her ability to succeed. She was a chemist, having graduated four years previously with high honors, but that hardly mattered. All they saw was a woman, and they couldn’t fathom the success she would bring to the Navy over the next 48 years.

Dr. Holt worked as a chemist in the Naval Mine Engineering Facility until 1981, when she transitioned to managerial roles. In 2006, she became the executive director of the newly created Navy Munitions Command, designed to align all naval ordnance support operations worldwide into a single unit. As executive director, Dr. Holt provided the strategic vision, leadership, technical knowledge and administrative skills to ensure the U.S. Navy always had access to the right weapons at the right time and in the right place.

For her service to the Navy, Dr. Holt received the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, two Navy Superior Service Medals and a Federally Employed Woman of the Year award. And Building 1959, the 64,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art headquarters for the command, is unofficially known as the Holt Building for Dr. Holt’s involvement as its champion. 

Dr. Holt is credited with helping transform naval ordnance operations into a highly effective and efficient organization. But the way she sees it, she was merely the facilitator.

“I had a wonderful team, and it was truly a team effort,” she said. “Good people working together can make great things happen.”

Her sense of teamwork and tenacity was something she acquired early on. She grew up on a tobacco farm and was expected to pull her weight in whatever way she could. “We were encouraged
to do any job that we were interested in,” she said. “There were no restraints on so-called male or female jobs. Everyone just did what they could to get the work done.”

She carried those values with her to North Carolina State University, where she was one of 66 women among 6,600 men. She said the environment often was hostile toward women, who were viewed as either strange or as husband-hunters. A heavy course load and a job in the chemistry lab kept her focused, however.

“I was honestly too busy to worry about any of that,” she said. “Luckily, I think the environment is much more receptive and facilitating of women today than when I started. Still, our young women need encouragement, and they need to see that women who go into science and engineering aren’t weird; we just have a curiosity and want to make the world a better place.”

After retiring from the Navy, Dr. Holt took a single day off before joining her husband, Milton, and daughter, Katherine, at the Technology Commercialization Center in Hampton Roads, Va. The company helps match inventors to companies interested in bringing their emerging technologies to market.

Dr. Holt spends her spare time on the same North Carolina farm where she grew up, which has been in her family since her Patriot ancestor, William Goodwin, purchased the land in 1789. She also enjoys her membership in DAR.

“Early in my career as a Navy manager, I was often invited to events sponsored by the Comte de Grasse DAR Chapter, Yorktown, Va.,” she said. “I always enjoyed attending these events and associating with the amazing members that it was such an honor to become a member of the chapter later in my career.”

Her love of country is what led her to civil service in the first place. “I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to do our part to protect the freedoms our Patriot ancestors fought so hard to win for us,” she said. “I believe we each have an obligation to do our part, whatever that is.”


Michelé Hull

As the branch chief of procurement for the NATO Support and Procurement Agency in Capellen, Luxembourg, Michelé Hull oversees contracting for NATO operations in Afghanistan, as well as Hungary, Iraq, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania and Macedonia. At the height of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan in 2011, Ms. Hull’s team consisted of more than 40 contract officers. It has since shrunk to 20, but that doesn’t mean her job is any less hectic. She routinely works 10-hour days and spends most of that time interacting with contractors and contract officers in the field.

“I go into work and I never know what will hit me,” said Ms. Hull. “It’s anything but predictable, particularly when you’re talking about a war zone.”

Working for NATO since 2006 and in this position since 2011, Ms. Hull has deployed to Afghanistan five times, most recently in May 2014. While there, she never leaves a force-protected zone, but safety training and protocols, as well as ballistic vests and helmets, keep her safe if the base comes under fire.

Among her proudest accomplishments was her role as the NATO procurement officer in charge during the setup of the Kandahar Airfield in 2007. “It was an extremely challenging situation,” she said. “I was doing massive problem solving with very little oversight or support, and I was dealing with contractors who weren’t used to seeing women in leadership roles. It was frustrating, but I did well.”

Ms. Hull’s post with NATO was not her first experience with high-stakes responsibilities. Previously she worked at NASA in California, Maryland and Washington, D.C., where she was the main contracting officer on a $2.2 billion multi-contract deal that spanned three different NASA centers. She also was the contracting officer for the gloves used by American astronauts on the International Space Station.

“It’s hard work and it’s stressful, but it’s so gratifying,” she said. “So many people see contracting as a stumbling block or a nuisance, because there are so many rules and regulations to follow, but I feel immense pride when I see my hard work come to fruition. I became a civil servant in the first place because I fully believe in supporting the United States, and this is how I do that.”

Fluent in French, German and Italian, Ms. Hull enjoys living and working in the micro-sized Luxembourg, where both French and German are spoken, and where 20 minutes from downtown puts her in a different country. Her 3-year-old daughter, Jordyne, is already fluent in English and French and also understands German. On weekends, they explore the city together and spend time with friends.

Ms. Hull said there are trade-offs to her life in Europe. “It’s different and exciting, but we’re definitely missing out by not being closer to our family,” said Ms. Hull, who grew up in Oregon and Washington. “I can Skype, but nothing replaces that human touch and physical closeness.”

And sure, the Alps are in her backyard, but Ms. Hull said nothing beats skiing and snowboarding in California’s Sierra Nevada, which was a trip she made every year until she became pregnant with Jordyne.

Ms. Hull, who joined the Elizabeth Forey DAR Chapter, University Place, Wash., as a Junior in 1999, doesn’t let an ocean get in the way of her patriotism. “I have the American flag in my office here at work. I always fly the flag on the Fourth of July, and I never hide the fact that I’m American, even when anti-American sentiment exists,” she said. “Working for NATO, I feel very proud to be representing America, and I hope that my strong work ethic, honesty and integrity is helping influence others’ perception of what it means to be American.”