At a point in her life when Arielle Cox was looking for the right direction to navigate herself toward a meaningful career that she could become fully immersed in, she set her sights on the U.S. Navy.
Today, the Athens native serves aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) as a quartermaster seaman whose primary responsibility is safe navigation of the ship, which includes preparation of nautical charts, being responsible for navigational instruments and clocks, maintaining the ship’s deck log and more — all under the direction of the navigator while following nautical rules to prevent collisions at sea. But that is not all.
“I am expected to be qualified watchstander for my rate (quartermaster of the watch) in which I monitor our navigation system to ensure we are headed for safe waters, keep up with the weather to make sure we don’t run into any severe weather, and also hoist any necessary flags during that time to communicate with other ships about what we are doing,” Cox said in an email interview.
Being entrusted with that kind of responsibility is both a privilege and an honor, according to Cox, who admits life at sea was not something she initially had in mind when she enlisted, but now she is glad she chose the Navy as her career.
“I had absolutely never considered it. Even going through the process of picking my job, I had my fingers crossed I’d be on land,” she said. “Once I understood I’d be living on a ship I embraced the thought and couldn’t wait to get here. Turns out it’s actually not bad at all and I get to travel more on a ship than on land! In the beginning, we’re all rookies. But we learn, grow and perfect our skills to be the best. I take pride knowing the ship is safe because I have to know what I am doing. This is easily the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Cox said her family was extremely supportive, adding, “I was a bit shocked at how excited my mom was for me because I didn’t really tell anyone I was joining until the day that I enlisted. My friends took the news a bit harder but have shown unconditional support.”
At the time she joined, the McMinn County High School graduate said she was working a part-time job and going to college for the second time.
“I was honestly influenced by my teacher who was a retired colonel in the Air Force and realizing school just wasn’t for me at that point, I made the biggest decision I’ve ever made and enlisted. I have been to Bahrain (in the Persian Gulf) quite a few times, and Abu Dhabi so far. I did a sunset safari tour where we rode in Jeeps up and down the sand dunes, rode camels and got to partake in a few of the traditions while, of course, catching the sunset and stargazing. That was pretty fun.”
According to the U.S. Navy, during a 20-year period in the Navy, quartermasters will spend about 60 percent of their time assigned to fleet units and 40 percent to shore stations, so there is a certain land-to-sea balance Cox can anticipate during her naval career.
“I left my A-School — my schooling for my job — and headed straight to deployment, so I am stationed in Norfolk, Va., but I haven’t been there yet,” Cox said.
When asked about the most challenging thing about becoming a quartermaster seaman, Cox, who is serving in a predominantly male position, said it was “the qualifications,” but clarified: “Not even that they are challenging, but just being new to the fleet, everyone else is qualified in so many other things and it’s imperative that I stay on top of everything I have to learn and get qualified in.”
Cox took a chance on navigating her career toward the sea and has found the experience exciting, adventurous and empowering, because the responsibilities are significant, the journeys are riveting and the respect well-earned. She is also finding equal opportunities to push the limits of her abilities far beyond what she could ever hope to achieve back home — a place still dear to her heart.
When asked if she would recommend her lifestyle to others, Cox answered, “Yes, I would. You have to understand we all do deployments and all have to be separated from our loved ones. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it gets better once you adjust. It’s a huge lifestyle change for anyone, but you get out of it what you put in it, and it’s rewarding and worth it.”