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Subject: Kathleen McGrath, Pioneering Warship Commander, Dies at 50


Author:
Virginia
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Date Posted: October 01, 2002 1:40:39 EDT

Capt. Kathleen McGrath, the first woman to command a United States Navy warship, died on Thursday at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She was 50 and lived in McLean, Va.

The cause was lung cancer, said her sister, Peggy McGrath.

Captain McGrath became commander of the frigate Jarrett, a 453-foot warship, with a 262-member crew, in the spring of 2000.

She took the helm six years after Congress lifted rules that prohibited women from serving on combat aircraft and warships.

Captain McGrath guided the ship to the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf, where the crew hunted boats suspected of smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of United Nations sanctions.

A 1975 graduate of California State University at Sacramento, she worked for the United States Forestry Service until 1980, when she decided to follow in her father's footsteps and join the Air Force.

But the recruiter was out to lunch, and she was won over by a Navy recruiter who promised her overseas travel.

Captain McGrath had deployments in the Western Pacific, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas.

In 1990, she participated in the operation intended to protect Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

She also commanded the rescue and salvage ship Recovery in 1993 and 1994.

"Kathy was an accomplished surface warrior and leader," said Rear Adm. Harry Ulrich, director of surface warfare.

After her tour as commander of the Jarrett, Captain McGrath served at the Joint Advanced Warfighting Unit in Alexandria, Va.

During her career, Captain McGrath was honored with many medals, including the Legion of Merit and four Meritorious Service Medals.

In addition to her sister Peggy, she is survived by two other sisters; two brothers; her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Brandon, who is retired; their children, Nicholas and Clare; and her parents, James and Martha McGrath of Sequim, Wash.

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