By MJ KNOBLOCK
Much to the dismay of her parents, Phyllis Schirle wasn’t interested in attending college right after graduation. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, she graduated from high school at 17.
When her father suggested she look into military service, Schirle automatically thought of the exciting career her cousin had in the U.S. Navy and decided to enlist. Little did she know that it would become her life, and she would stay in the Navy for 26 years. Although she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer, she was part of a growing movement of women joining the military. When she started in the delayed entry program at 18 in 1973, there were only about 5,000 women in the Navy. Today, there are 53,412 on active duty.
Although Schirle originally hoped to be an air traffic controller, her plans went awry at boot camp in Orlando, Fla. in January of 1974. She found out she had no depth perception in her vision and therefore did not qualify for that program. She was given two hours to choose a new program or leave. She decided on aerography, observing and forecasting the weather. Years later, she became only the second woman in her field to earn the rank of master chief.
After completing aerographer observer training in Lakehurst, NJ in 1974, she was sent to the Fleet Weather Center in Guam for six months, then to the Naval Weather Service Environmental Detachment of the Naval Air Facility at Misawa Air Force Base in Japan for two years before returning to Guam.
Guam was a hub of activity in 1974. The Vietnam War was winding down, and many Vietnamese people exited to other countries. A tent city was set up at an old air strip in Guam for what was dubbed Operation New Life. Schirle helped with refugee processing.
“For me, having grown up in Akron, Ohio, this was an amazing thing to see,” she said.
After her second tour in Guam, she went to Orlando for training, then to Ohio as a Navy recruiter until 1982. After a year at the Naval Polar Oceanography Center in Suitland, Maryland, Schirle went to aerographer’s school in Illinois and became a forecaster. It was then that she met her future husband, Paul Schirle, now a retired master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force.
She worked at the Naval Western Oceanography Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as a forecaster from 1983 to 1984, and from 1986 to 1990, eventually becoming the operations senior chief. Her fondest memories are from her years in Hawaii. It wasn’t just the scenic mountains and pristine beaches. It’s also where she married Paul and where their two children were born.
Stationed back in Guam between her two stints in Hawaii, Schirle worked as a forecaster at the Naval Oceanography Command Center and Joint Typhoon Warning Center as an E-7. After her second post in Hawaii, she was sent back to Illinois, in charge of the aerographer’s mate training school for observers and forecasters. From 1992 to 1996 she was command master chief of Naval Eastern Oceanography Center in Norfolk, but chose to live in Chesapeake. Schirle was next stationed at the Naval Ice Center in Suitland as command master chief.
After retiring in August of 1999 as an E-9, she and her husband returned to Hampton Roads. They felt Chesapeake was a great place to raise a family, especially because of the schools. Another reason the Schirles originally chose Chesapeake over the other Hampton Roads cities was the appeal of the brand new library being built on Cedar Road.
“After seeing how much or how little some communities do have, we were impressed,” she said. “We thought, wow. If a community puts this much into the library, they really have something going for them.”
Shortly after moving back to Great Bridge, Schirle took a job at the City of Chesapeake Main Library where she now works in public relations. After 14 years, she still enjoys Chesapeake. Her children, Rose and Nate Schirle, have both graduated from college and have come back to live in Great Bridge.
Master Chief Phyllis Schirle, The Citizen of Chesapeake salutes you and thanks you for your service to our nation.