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Press Release

Release Date: November 09, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

 DeVault reflects on life of service

Lieutenant Elizabeth DeVault (Retired), United States Navy, experienced life through the lens of military service. She is the daughter of Army Master Sergeant Michael Henry (Retired).

DeVault believes her Chickasaw culture, which was passed on to her by her father, played an important role in her decision to become a Chickasaw warrior, and why she opted to have a 25-year military career.

With a desire to continue public service following her naval career, DeVault currently works in a civilian capacity for the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC). DeVault was selected to give the keynote address for the celebration of MSC’s 2021 National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, which took place Nov. 30, 2021, at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia.

“I was invited to be the keynote speaker because of my Chickasaw heritage,” DeVault said. “It was wonderful. I brought my (Chickasaw) warrior blanket. I told everyone about the tribe and our history. There were many Native Americans present. We shared our cultural experiences with others.”

The theme for the celebration was “Grounded in Tradition, Resilient in Spirit.” At the conference, speakers explained the roles First Americans have played in the military and the history of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. DeVault attested to the importance of Chickasaws in American history and gave details of her family and tribe’s experiences.

Considering her long career in the Navy, MSC falls directly into DeVault’s wheelhouse of knowledge. According to MSC, their mission involves supporting military personnel across the full spectrum of operations in war and peacetime. With more than 120 civilian-crewed ships providing logistics support to both naval ships at sea and military installations across the globe, DeVault’s experience and leadership is vital in completing the mission of MSC.

“In the Navy, I developed an antiterrorism program from a combatant’s point of view. I helped protect people and property from those who might do us harm,” DeVault said. “A job opened up in Military Sealift Command that was similar to my role in the Navy. I help design, write policy and provide training within Military Sealift Command’s antiterrorism programs, this time designed from the noncombat point of view.”

DeVault enjoyed her time in the Navy. She appreciates the structure military life afforded. She liked the career advancement and educational opportunities the Navy provided and believes her current position at MSC, working with both naval and civilian personnel, is a good long-term fit. She has helped MSC complete its objectives for more than four years.

DeVault’s warrior tradition runs deep. As an adult, service is all she has known. As a child, she watched her dad dedicate his life to the nation. DeVault was born on Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a highly regarded military base with a rich history. She lived the life of a typical “military brat,” traveling with her family from duty station to duty station.

Many factors prompted DeVault to enlist in the Navy. These included earning money for college, the opportunity to travel and having friends who had already joined telling her stories about their experiences. At 19 years old and full of wanderlust, she enlisted.

“Because my father was Army, I was used to moving around a lot,” DeVault said. “I spent a year in college. I didn’t love it. I also needed money for tuition and I felt the call ‘to go.’ I was ready for something new.”

Her father was supportive and proud of her decision to enlist, while her mother, Rosemary, cried for three days. After much consoling from her father, Rosemary came around to the idea of her daughter’s future life in the Navy. DeVault believes the shared Chickasaw heritage and warrior spirit between her and her father make them strong, allowing them the ability to serve at the highest level.

“How many people can say they have done the things I have?” DeVault said. “I have had two years of electronic school, followed by a year of advanced electronic training and countless other schools. I have a paid for bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree. With six deployments, I have seen half the world and countless countries. The amount of things I have gotten to see and do don’t compare to everyday jobs.”

During her career, DeVault witnessed cultural changes within the Navy. Her service began in an era when women were unable to perform combat roles. This led to feelings of being professionally unsatisfied. The course of her life changed when combat fields became available to women.

“I first trained in electronics, working with radios,” DeVault said. “I didn’t find this fulfilling. In the late 90s, combatant jobs were opened to females. I went back to school to become a fire controlman, repairing and operating electronic radars and big guns. I was good at it. I liked being on the forefront, being first in the field.”

As a fire controlman, DeVault was in the first generation of women assigned aboard combat vessels. Stationed aboard the destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70), a newly commissioned ship, DeVault has the honor of being one of its plank owners. Plank owners are members of a crew when a ship is placed into commission. While not an official naval title, crewmembers cherish the rare opportunity and comradery that comes with plank ownership status.

“The USS Hopper was one of the first ships designed with both men and women personnel in mind,” DeVault said. “I was happy. If I had to continue to fix radios every day on shore, I probably would not have stayed in (the Navy).”

DeVault attained the enlisted rank of Chief Petty Officer before earning a commission. According to DeVault, some jobs in the Navy are of a technical nature. These positions require officers with firsthand experience in their fields. Due to her training while enlisted, she was selected to become a Limited Duty Officer in the field of ordnance. She was commissioned as an Ensign (O-1E) in 2007.

“While I had finished my bachelor’s degree before becoming an officer, it was my job training and experience that led to my commission,” she said. “It helped that I had a degree, but it was not a prerequisite.”

In addition to other ships, DeVault served aboard two prestigious aircraft carriers. These included the now decommissioned USS Enterprise, where she completed her Ensign training, and the USS George H.W. Bush.

“I had just come off a three-year sea tour when I was accepted into the officer program,” DeVault said. “I had to immediately do another three years on the USS Enterprise. The price of my commission was a six-year stint where I was completely at sea attached to a ship.”

“It was worth it. I got to drive an aircraft carrier. To lead a combat ship like that from the bridge is an experience. The running joke is that aircraft carriers are 90,000 tons of diplomacy,” DeVault said.

Although committed to the life of a sailor, DeVault did not give up pursuing her academic goals. She recognized education would advance her career and that she would one day retire from the Navy.

“A weapons and antiterrorism job is hard to equate to in the civilian world,” she said. “I knew I would need a different skill set for a civilian life.”

DeVault earned a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior University, Albany, New York. She followed this up by attaining both a master’s degree in organizational management and leadership, and a doctorate in business administration from Capella University, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Her education was paid for in collaboration with academic scholarships from the universities, her naval service and the Chickasaw Nation.

“My dad heard about higher education programs while at a (Chickasaw) community meeting,” DeVault said. ”He explained the program to me while I was at sea. I used a satellite phone to call the Chickasaw Nation Higher Education Department for details. It was easy. I was emailed a form (to fill out) and collected the college information that I passed on to the tribe. When tuition was due, the Chickasaw Nation paid it directly to the university.”

Along with her degrees, DeVault garnered many medals and awards during her career. These include two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and five Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

DeVault retired from the Navy in 2017. She spent much of her childhood on posts in Virginia, where she graduated high school. While currently residing in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she considers the entire state of Virginia home.

DeVault cherishes her Chickasaw heritage. She says it has given her a lifelong sense of belonging. Even though she is far away from the Chickasaw Nation treaty territory, she feels the tribe tries to connect to her through “The Chickasaw Times,” a strong social media presence and citizen connection meetings that take place close to her home in Washington, D.C.

“My Chickasaw heritage is important,’’ DeVault said. “I receive my (Chickasaw) blood from my grandmother on my father’s side of the family. My father is from Ada. I spend time learning about my culture and family while in Oklahoma.”

As a veteran, DeVault is thankful for the Chickasaw Warrior Society and the construction of the dedicated Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge. The lodge helps veterans by providing a place to gather for fellowship. It also houses staff trained to help veterans find and apply for benefits available to them. DeVault made a point to visit the veterans lodge during a visit to Ada.

“I think it is wonderful the tribe honors our service.” DeVault said. “I wish I lived close enough to be a flag bearer. I keep track of the society and the lodge through (“The Chickasaw Times”) newspaper. Even though I live far away, I feel included in the Warrior Society.”

“In the military, you get separated from friends and family. My sea counter — official time at sea — registered e as spending 17 of my 25 years away at sea. Being a part of the tribe gives me the sense of belonging.”

She believes it is her civic duty to participate in Chickasaw elections. She says that, although she does not live within the Chickasaw Nation, her voice counts. She feels that she and her family are included in the tribe’s decision-making process.

“I like that the tribe brings everyone that is Chickasaw into the fold, even if they are not in Oklahoma,” DeVault said. “I get information by mail from the tribe. Some information I look up online and my family also provides me with some. (“The Chickasaw Times”) newspaper has articles about upcoming candidates. I appreciate that the tribe takes the time to make me feel like I matter.”

As a woman of action, DeVault was invited by the Chickasaw Nation to speak at the 2019 Dynamic Women of the Chickasaw Nation Conference. The conference took place in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The theme was “Conquer Life’s Opportunities.” DeVault gave a series of presentations on how women have influenced the U.S. Navy.

“The presentations included history of women in the Navy, how they have overcome the challenges faced in a predominantly male environment and how the Navy can benefit Chickasaw women of the future,” DeVault said.