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Veteran Series: Navy Veteran, Mathematician Blazes Trails for Future Force

16 November 2023

From Michaela Judge, NIWC Atlantic Public Affairs

This story is the first installment of NIWC Atlantic’s Veterans Month Campaign, a feature series celebrating the incredible accomplishments of NIWC Atlantic’s Veteran workforce. During this special Veterans Month tribute, readers are encouraged to learn from the personal experiences of those spotlighted and the unique ways their contributions are blazing new trails for future generations to come.
Veteran Series: Navy Veteran, Mathematician Blazes Trails for Future Force - Pamela Bell
Veteran Series: Navy Veteran, Mathematician Blazes Trails for Future Force - Pamela Bell
Veteran Series: Navy Veteran, Mathematician Blazes Trails for Future Force
Veteran Series: Navy Veteran, Mathematician Blazes Trails for Future Force
Photo By: Wendy Jamieson
VIRIN: 231115-N-RN894-1001

Pamela Bell is no stranger to blazing new trails and creating opportunities for those coming behind her. 

In 1984, the New York native graduated with a dual major in Mathematics and Economics from the State University of New York at Potsdam during a time when science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) degrees for females was still relatively new territory.  

Despite a predominately male field of study, Bell said she never felt underrepresented.  

“My best friends were all math majors, and we had a pretty strong class of females,” she said. 

Upon graduating, Bell was working three jobs, to include permanently substituting at her high school. However, she had other aspirations on the horizon.  

“I called the Navy Officer Recruiter one day and asked what they had available,” said Bell. “I had hoped to go into Crypto, but an available billet for Officer Candidate School would be 12 months out so I went ahead and signed up for General Unrestricted Line where my assignments could be varied.” 

That one small action sent Bell on an incredible career trajectory.  

“I took a chance when I called that Navy Officer Recruiter and I never regretted it,” she said. “I got my first plane ride to Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, Rhode Island and never looked back.” 

In reflecting on that one pivotal move, Bell shared how she encourages others to not be afraid to take a chance and try something that might not seem the obvious choice. 

Bell’s “chance” ended up paying dividends, as she soon found herself a graduate of OCS in 1985 and a brand new Navy ensign.  

Pam’s first role as a Navy officer was as an analyst at Navy Manpower Engineering Center in Pensacola, Florida, where she conducted management efficiency reviews on major shore commands. 

“We did manpower studies and process analysis to identify optimal manning levels,” Bell said. “The biggest study I did was at the Naval Education and Training Command and we identified several opportunities to reduce manpower for the enlisted advancement exams and training manuals. Needless to say, we were not popular there.” 

Bell’s career would later take her to the operational-side of the Navy with the FA-18 Training Squadron. As a legal officer, she was responsible for the non-judicial punishment (NJP) and administrative separations.   

That squadron was home to both the East Coast FA-18 pilot training and the enlisted maintenance training, and had both Sailors and Marines assigned. Bell was able to finish her assignment in the squadron in the administrative office where she was responsible for the enlisted advancements and manpower management.  

A unique and rewarding aspect of her time in this position was becoming back seat qualified to fly in the FA-18, she said. 

“It was definitely a high point and it enabled me to fly out in a FA-18 to Fallon, Nevada to do administrative separation boards on several of our Sailors that were caught up in random drug testing,” she said. “My commanding officer was quite excited to brag that his legal officer was ready to go anywhere the FA-18s would go.” 

Bell’s time in the Navy allowed for her to transfer to the Naval Postgraduate School in 1990 where she took on the role of full-time student in Applied Mathematics. Bell had the distinction of being the first female to graduate in the major. 

“As with many of my positions, I did not realize at the time that I would be the first,” she said. “I had a strong bond with the other students, and we worked together daily to master the concepts.”  

With school under her belt, Bell was assigned as the Deputy Harbor Operations Officer at Naval Station, Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida – an assignment she highlights as her favorite in her military career.   

“I was working the piers with the Harbor Operations Officer and ensuring ships movements and supply logistics went smoothly,” she said. “I was qualified as the command duty officer (CDO) and quickly took on the role as the trainer for all new base CDOs on shipboard oil spill reporting and cleanup operations. The interesting part of that job was that my husband was an Arresting Gear/Catapult Officer on the USS Saratoga and I was able to know her movements in/out of the harbor firsthand.”  

Though Bell found each assignment to come with its own set of challenges, she also found them to be fulfilling.  

“You knew what the mission was and you knew you were contributing to the successful outcomes,” Bell said. “It was in the mid-late 80s and there were few billets at sea for women, so you had to make a difference at your shore command.”   

Bell shared how her time as a Harbor Operations Officer allowed her to engage the fleet directly and ensure they were receiving the services they needed in port. 

“I was on duty during several storms where our responsiveness was key to the safety of the ships in port,” she said. “On several occasions I oversaw oil spill response procedures in partnership with the US Coast Guard.”  

As a female servicemember, Bell faced a career crossroads when her detailer made it clear that the “needs of the Navy” ultimately would outweigh her desire and need to keep her family together.  

“I had just extended a year at Mayport to have my second child and my husband had just negotiated orders to a new squadron at Cecil Field,” she said. “We decided as a family that I would stay at home for a few years while he pursued his career as a Naval Aviator.”  

Bell and her family stayed in Jacksonville for a few more years then when her husband transferred to the Naval Reserves, they moved here to Charleston where he got a job with an industry partner for Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic, which at the time, was called Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR). 
In 2003, Bell received an opportunity to serve in the Navy again, but this time outside of the uniform as a civil servant, at NIWC Atlantic, as supervisor of the command’s Organizational Development and Training Management Team, where she worked to centralize training across the workforce.  

“I was interested in finding a technical role with my background in mathematics and analysis, but managing the manpower billets was a challenge at the Fleet Replacement Squadron so I found it intriguing,” said Bell. “I liked the challenge of ensuring every single Sailor was ready for their advancement exams and reached 100% readiness in my first cycle.”  

In this role, Bell had the additional duty of User and Training Management Lead in preparation for Navy Enterprise Resource Planning 1.0, where she was responsible for preparing 192 trainers and delivering over 8,800 courses for 4,000 end users.   

“I was very proud of the work I did when the command implemented Navy ERP,” she said. “We worked tirelessly for over two years to prepare the command for that major change to our work processes and I had the responsibility for both role mapping and training.”  

Bell and her team implemented a role mapping tool that was adopted across Team SPAWAR that simplified the process of mapping employees to roles based on bundling.  

“We assembled quite a team of trainers and had 18 classrooms up and down the east coast that ran for 16-18 weeks,” she said. “It was an incredible feat.”     

Bell went on to fill the role of Total Workforce Director in 2016, and dual-hatted roles of Acting Director of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and Deputy Director of Corporate Operations during the coronavirus pandemic.    

“Her efforts in these positions were instrumental, especially during COVID-19, when the DOD as a whole faced unprecedented challenges,” said NIWC Atlantic Executive Director Peter C. Reddy. “During that time especially, Pam not only led her team but acted as a super connector to keep morale high and employees engaged.”    

Though this unique time was challenging, it was also rewarding, Bell said. 

“I think COVID forced us to really think about our relationships as it became clear early on in the pandemic that without strong connections it was hard to get things done," Bell said. “We are still benefitting from that effort and it makes showing up to work that much more pleasant.”

The impact Bell has made both on active duty and in civil service continues to be recognized today.   

“Within a few weeks of transitioning into my current role, it was evident in working with Pam that one of her greatest leadership strengths was genuine empathy and the ability to connect with others,” said Braid Hoisington, Corporate Operations director. “She is an incredible example of the power of connectiveness and how simple interactions with people on a deeper personal level can strengthen a team.” 

Since coming to NIWC Atlantic, Bell has received a number of awards, to include a Special Act Award for her work on Navy ERP, an On the Spot Award for her support of the NRDE Common Process Common Structure Working Group, and a Navy Civilian Service Commendation Medal. 

“Pam has been a living example of the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment,” said Reddy. “She has selflessly served our Nation for 31 years, and we are proud that her legacy and dedication to the mission is leaving a meaningful impact on NIWC Atlantic and the Navy for years to come.” 

Looking ahead, Pam has the honor of bookending her 31 years of Navy career with a formal retirement ceremony this month, a milestone event following a legacy of service.    

“The Navy has been the cornerstone of my life for the last 38 years and has given me both a wonderful family and a rewarding career,” she said. “I would not change a thing." 
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