Incline Village, NV – As America prepared for revolution, it was the merchants who formed our country’s first navy to fight the British. Today, those merchants comprise the Merchant Marine, the fleet of civilian-owned merchant vessels that transport goods and services and serve as an auxiliary to the Navy to deliver troops and supplies when called upon in times of war. Indeed, the Merchant Marine remains critical to the security of our country, earning its unofficial designation as the “invisible service.”
“We’re the logistics force,” says Captain Susan Orsini. “Wherever the Navy is, that’s where we are. We contribute a lot and we’re not known, but we take pride in our anonymity.”
Captain Susan Orsini is a 25-year veteran of the Merchant Marine and only the second female master with Military Sealift Command. A self-described small-town girl from Colorado, Orsini spent a year in the Philippines as part of a student-exchange program where she was exposed to the country’s vibrant seagoing culture. While studying abroad, she was accepted to the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Her first assignment found her boarding the Mercy, a hospital ship bound for Operation Desert Shield.
“I used to read a lot, and books would take me all over the world,” recalls Orsini. “Now I was able to see the world and it was beautiful and dramatic and satisfying, but most importantly, we were doing something of service.”
As far as being one of the few women in the Merchant Marine, Orsini says that was never her goal.
“Whether they’re entry-level or a master, everyone on the ship has a lot of responsibility. It’s an interrelated community," says Orsini. "I don’t think I’ve done anything special. I just went out and did my job.”
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