Borne the Battle #187: Darlene Iskra: Groundbreaker


As the first woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, Darlene Iskra is a groundbreaker for women in the military.

Despite her groundbreaking status, Iskra’s initial goal in the Navy was not to be the first woman to command a ship. She just wanted to a career that was commensurate with her male counterparts. But her career includes many highlights of various roles for women in the military.

One of Iskra’s achievements includes being one of the first female diving officers in the Navy. She had no idea that she would become one of the first three female diving officers, thanks to her strong swimming skills.

Throughout her career, Iskra helped women find their place in the military free from stereotyping. In 2003, she helped staff and pass legislation on Capitol Hill for the Smith-Cantwell Amendment. This amendment forbade the DoD to require women service members to wear an abaya in Saudi Arabia.

Today, Iskra acts as an ambassador for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The memorial serves to honor the women who sacrificed their lives fighting for America.

A neoclassical exedra with central apse, inlaid with red granite
Front entrance to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, by Rudi Williams, Public Domain.

The memorial is at the entrance to Arlington Cemetery, and it aims to inform the public about the American women who have served this country. The memorial provides women Veterans’ oral and written history throughout the years.


Darlene Iskra pushes to help women do what they are passionate about and find equality while serving their country.


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Michelle Cannon is a podcast intern with the VA’s Digital Media Engagement Team. She is a graduate student at Liberty University studying Professional Writing.

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  1. David Oyster CDR DC USN (ret)    

    Good for her. USS Austin an LPD WAS MY FIRST SHIP for midshipman cruise in 1971. Assuming not a newer ship?

  2. Kenscoda    

    What kind of ship does she command, the show went on for 15 minute and never said what kind ship. It the most important item and the show never said.

    1. Floridain05    

      The ship was the U.S.S Austin that she commanded.

      1. Tanner Iskra    

        USS Opportune ARS-41. She said the name and talked about the mission during the conversation.

  3. RenegadeVN70    

    That’s odd. I met a young woman Naval Officer who was a qualified Navy Diver during MOBILE DIVING AND SALVAGE UNIT ONE support operations in Micronesia in 1988. Granted she never commanded a ship, but she served well before Cdr Iskra.

  4. David Buchanan    

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am proud to have server under the command of Lieutenant commander Iskra. My young adult daughters know because of my pride of serving with her there is nothing women can not do.

    1. Kevin Green    

      Actually, CDR Iskra went through prospective commanding officer school in the mid-1980’s. She broke the barrier, all right.

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