In honor of Veterans Day, we’ve asked veteran Naval Officer Tina Swallow, a current Cisco leader, to share her story of service in both the U.S. Navy and in the private sector.
A long line of Naval service continues
I was born in Newport, Rhode Island when my father was studying at the Naval War College. I joined a family with a long line of naval service that included both grandfathers, several uncles, and cousins. I grew up with Saturday morning inspections and fire drills. And as family lore goes, I was hoisted out the second floor of our home in Newport to pass one of those inspections.
I always thought about going into the Navy, perhaps as a Navy Nurse, and as my father said “being able to travel and see the world.” I loved the idea of being a part of a team. In high school I was part of a Texas drill team, where I learned the importance of teamwork as we made our way to state and national competitions. In many ways it was a natural progression to one day become a Naval Officer, just as my older brother had before me.
Pushups, mail, and teamwork
In college I worked in Sales at Neiman Marcus. I thought maybe instead of the Navy I would go into retail as a career. But after a car accident that left me with a brain injury, almost a year out of school, I applied for a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship for my last two years of college. I was accepted and spent part of the summer before my junior year of college back in Newport doing pushups in goose poop and being told what to do every minute of the day by growling US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeants. I was called Candidate Miss World because I got so much mail from home. It was a life-affirming time, as I was still recovering from my injuries, but I learned my greatest strengths during that time and once again the importance of working as a team to get the job done.
Leadership — with a side of adventure
Upon graduation from the University of San Diego and commission as a Navy Ensign, I went to Keflavik, Iceland to lead a team of Aviation Boatswain mates running the Air Terminal. I was so young but had the tremendous honor of leading such a wonderful a team. I never intended to stay in the Navy for a full career, but I kept being given the opportunity to serve and lead with greater responsibility.
As a Navy Lieutenant, my brother received the Bronze Star with Combat Valor for his actions saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts after it hit a mine. At the time I was a naval communications officer stationed in Naples, Italy. So when I learned of the event I was able to let my family know that he had survived the mining.
My Naval career took me all over the world. And I met my husband when we were both Lieutenants at the Naval Postgraduate School. We were always up for adventure and decided we would go anywhere as long as we were together, so we volunteered for Bahrain and then Japan. My daughter was born in Bahrain six weeks before the USS Cole was bombed, putting us in threat condition Delta for the months leading up to 9-11. I found myself working and caring for two babies while my husband was emergency deployed to Yemen.
How I met Cisco
When I was running the Unified Network Operations Center in Norfolk, Virginia, we were very concerned about Y2K and what might happen, especially since we called ourselves the AOL to the fleet, connecting ships with each other and families back home. The center leveraged Cisco technology to bring families closer together and I remember it was the Cisco team that stood with us, shoulder to shoulder, throughout the days leading up to and after Y2K.
Years before that, while at the Atlantic fleet headquarters, I also gained familiarity with Cisco when their first routers destined for use onboard Naval vessels were stacked in my office (from the floor to the ceiling). I didn’t have any idea what I was a part of and how that technology would take off and be a game changer for the Navy. But when I became more senior and was able to see the broader view, I realized the important role Cisco was playing to make our Navy faster and stronger.
My Navy career ended with the most wonderful tour ever, in command and leading the men and women of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Far East in Yokosuka Japan. I was there at an incredible time when we were moving to an IP environment and doing away with many legacy communications systems. This let me work with Cisco technology again and at all of our remote sites in Japan, Korea, Diego Garcia, and Guam. When I retired after 21 years I felt very proud to have served, to have led, and to be given such an incredible responsibility to command.
Still serving our nation, but from the private sector
After I retired I wasn’t sure I was going to continue working. My children were still small and my husband was still serving. Very fortunate for me, I was approached by Cisco to come and work strategic initiatives in Defense. That was 11 years ago. In many ways I felt like I was still serving because I got to work with some of the most brilliant minds, for the greatest technology company in the world, and to share what I knew across all the services while taking on more demanding roles-just like when I was serving in the Navy. And best of all I got to serve my favorite customers, our men and women serving in harm’s way, but with the mindset of having been that customer.
The culture at Cisco wasn’t so different form the culture I experienced in the Navy. The people of Cisco have huge hearts. It seemed like whenever there was a natural disaster or tragedy Cisco was there, helping to pick up the pieces and restore communications. Cisco experts did this quietly without any fanfare. I experienced this selfless service firsthand when my son was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Cisco people came to my side to make sure my son and family were taken care of, all the way up to our top leadership. People cared and my family felt it. The Cisco team inspired my son to fight on. I’m ecstatic to say that eight years later, he is on schedule to graduate from college next May.
Grateful to have served and to continue serving
I am grateful to continue to be able to lead and serve at Cisco. From growing up in a Navy family to enjoying my own career as a Naval Officer, and still serving DoD while at Cisco, it has been an honor. And I now have two nephews serving as Naval Surface Warfare Officers, and a cousin flying helicopters for the Marine Corps, and one a Naval Flight Officer. Not to mention all of the military friends and their children still serving that I have met along the way. This helps keep me focused on the mission and the people that make it happen. I know that Cisco plays a huge role in their success, and as our world becomes faster and more complex, Cisco’s role will only become more critical. I’m proud to be able to connect my two families across the Cisco bridge.
Worth a watch
To hear more from Tina and other veterans still serving at Cisco, watch this short video.
Cisco and Defense: Cisco.com/go/defense