NEWPORT NEWS, Va -- After 20 years in the Navy, Chief Electrician's Mate Heather J. Deardorff sat in the waiting room, preparing to retire. Then, her phone rang and she received the best news of her career.
"Instantly, the tears hit my eyes and I stood up and started pacing around," said Deardorff. "The woman waiting at the front desk asked me, 'are you alright?' and it took everything in me to get the words out. I had been selected."
Deardorff had been selected to become a chief petty officer. If the call that changed her life would have been a mere five minutes later, she would have signed her DD 214 release paperwork and become a civilian for the first time in two decades.
Faced with the decision to retire after 20 years of service or reenlist, Deardorff said the choice was obvious. She had set a goal for herself that she wouldn't walk away from.
"I wanted to be a chief, when I was coming up, the chiefs were somebody you rarely saw unless something happened and you were in trouble, but they were always the people to go to," said Deardorff. "They're the ones you would ask questions to and if they didn't have the answer, they could get the answer. It was complete respect, they were leaders, somebody you wanted to be."
"I'm happy for her because that's a big decision to either go on and carry on your life and retire," said Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Darrell Hannibal. "You wouldn't have to put on chief, you could take the money and run, but she felt the dedication to be a bigger leader and be a chief and I commend her for that."
Deardorff has been aboard amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge for almost five years, a quarter of her time in the Navy. To her, the most rewarding experience has been her experiences with her junior Sailors.
My inspiration is my kids, my Sailors, training them and hopefully giving them the tools that they need to continue to be successful in life, said Deardorff.
"Everyone wants to succeed, they want to grow and do something amazing, they want to be part of something," said Deardorff. "Hopefully it's a good something and I want to be a part of that good something."
Throughout her career, Deardorff has faced disappointments and hardships, yet she maintains a positive approach on almost every situation she encounters.
"I've seen chief break down before, but she didn't quit. There were times that I didn't think she would come into work the next day because of the stress. Every day she came in though and had the same smile on her face and she pushed us hard," said Hannibal.
"Every experience the Navy has given me has been rewarding, even the more extreme experiences make you stronger." said Deardorff. "The harder the situation, the better you are at coping with it."
Fellow Sailors that work with Deardorff recognize that the commitment she shows is much more than a responsibility, but a personal obligation she stands by.
"Chief's face is one that you would want to see when your whole world is falling apart and you can't get away from work. She will stand by you, smiling, and say that it will all pay off one day," said Hannibal
"When I first joined, I thought I was going to do my four years and get out," said Deardorff. "But, throughout my career, I've pretty much gotten everything I always wanted and now, I've made it to chief."
Deardorff's next assignment is at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., where she will serve as a recruit division commander.
"It's an amazing feeling being able to engage them and have them understand their importance," said Deardorff. "Everything they do is important, regardless of what it is. Hopefully, I will be able to guide them, show them the right way to go and provide them with some good knowledge to carry with them through their career."