NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Many people at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) are familiar with the purple dragon that represents Operations Security (OPSEC), or the signs and training videos that are shown to employees to remind them to protect their work from prying eyes. But they may be less familiar with the individuals are the driving force behind the department—particularly Teresa Coon, NNSY OPSEC Manager.
The beginning of her story started in San Antonio, Texas with her five siblings and parents, where she often played outside in the woods with the rest of the neighborhood kids. After high school, she joined the Navy as a Seaman Apprentice because she wanted to see the world. “At the time I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but it sounded like a good idea,” Coon said.
From there, Coon was stationed overseas in 2001, and was chosen for the Military Working Dog (MWD) program, through which she was deployed to Iraq and Africa; while she was in Iraq, she met her husband. When she decided to leave active duty, she still wanted to work with dogs; however, this unfortunately changed when she was attacked by one of the working dogs. After learning to cope with the trauma, she came back to the Virginia to have reconstructive surgery when she heard that there was an opening at NNSY in the Physical Security Branch (Code 1121). She submitted her resume, and was offered the job in 2014. “At the time I was thrilled because my house was right around the corner,” Coon said. “Once I started, I realized what the mission here was—and it was something I could get behind.” She also liked it how many fellow veterans she was able to meet. “Being a veteran and having gone through everything I’ve gone through sometimes makes it hard for people to relate to you,” she added. “I feel more accepted with other people who have gone through similar experiences that I have.”
Although Coon was initially hired in the Code 1121, she was asked to switch to the Information Security Branch (Code 1122) and run the Safe and Vault Program after she came on board, in which she was responsible for classified storage areas and all the safes at NNSY. While in this position, she began assisting the OPSEC Program Manager at the time, Ernest Fentress, in May 2015. “I’d help teach or whatever he needed,” she explained. “I knew OPSEC had always interested me, so when he moved out of the shipyard, I jumped at the opportunity to fill that role.” She applied and was selected to fill the position.
After two years, Coon still loves her job and has a full understanding of the value of her job. “My role here is to make sure everyone knows and understands the importance of critical information,” she said. “You might not think you play a significant role but you do. You have information someone out there wants. I’m here to remind everyone that the information they have is important and they should be protecting it. Just because something may not be classified or sound important doesn’t mean it isn’t—both at work and home.”
Not only is she the OPSEC Manager, but she also had had a hand in other things around the shipyard, including creating the Monthly Security Awareness Bulletins, photo reviews, and establishing/disestablishing security spaces. She also is an active member of the Veteran Employee Readiness Group (VET-ERG). “If there’s a task and someone’s needed, I’m always willing to help,” she explained.
Her peers also agree that she is always willing to help, including Public Affairs Specialist Kristi Britt, who has worked with Coon on photo approvals for the past few years. “Teresa is one of the most hard-working and dedicated individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Britt said. “She goes above and beyond in everything she does and she inspires me to be the best I can be for America’s Shipyard. Knowing Teresa is knowing you have a lifelong friend, someone who will be there for you and help you however she can. Teresa is truly the best!”
Although many people have helped her along the way to where she is now, the person she still thanks the most is her father. “My dad was the kind of person who would help a complete stranger,” Coon recounted. “If he saw someone, regardless of what it was or what they needed, he was always there if they needed help. He taught me that regardless of who it is you should always help people if you can. He was my hero.”
Coon takes great pride in her work and NNSY. “I feel like if I can help even one person, then I’ve accomplished something great,” she said. “I might not be an engineer on the waterfront or a mechanic that’s working on the ship, but we all play a role in getting our ships back out to the Fleet. What we do both here and at our other locations is important and that is what helps our nation. That’s what I’m most proud of in being a part of it.”