J’can woman blazing a trail in US Navy
Spanish Town native Ince salutes hometown with inscription on aircraft
After enlisting in the United States Navy at the age of 21, Sashjenelle Ince, who grew up very shy and reserved in De La Vega City in Spanish Town, St Catherine, underwent a total psychological transformation. The now-28-year-old certified plane...
After enlisting in the United States Navy at the age of 21, Sashjenelle Ince, who grew up very shy and reserved in De La Vega City in Spanish Town, St Catherine, underwent a total psychological transformation.
The now-28-year-old certified plane captain said that she had no intention to be among the few women joining the US Navy, yet alone successfully climbing the ranks and, on some occasions, being the only female in her division.
But it all started when her brother Vascianni Ince, 27, encouraged her to join him on the journey of committing to the naval service.
“Growing up, everybody knew I was timid. I was shy, so that would never have been an avenue for me,” she told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
Ince added that when she got the call from her brother, she immediately thought that she would not be able to survive the rigorous boot camp onwards to service, “[but] he was like, ‘No, I think it would be good if you join with me and we could do it together’, and I was like, ‘Y’know what? I’m gonna give it a shot’,” she explained.
Her mother, Dr Fay Blake-Bennett, said she was initially shocked and worried as her two older children ventured into unknown territory.
She always thought that Ince would pursue modelling, given her 5’11” stature, or become a flight attendant, but that her son had always shown interest in wanting to serve in military service.
“After (Vascianni) came and he said, ‘Mom, I’m going to go into the Navy’, she came a week after and I’m like, ‘What?’ So you know I started having panic attack ... but you know, I’ve always been the parent who will always support choices that are made ... . So after she said it, I said, ‘Okay, what can I do?’,” Blake-Bennett said.
Ince, who went to Camperdown High School while in Jamaica and migrated to the US at the age of 15, said that despite being outside of her comfort zone, she faced the challenges head on.
She was a part of a 75-member division in boot camp, 12 of whom were women.
Of the total 115 trainees on graduation day in January 2016, she was among the five women in the cohort.
Ince received a letter of commendation from the city of Lynn, the Senate of the Commonwealth, and the governor of Massachusetts.
She has been awarded four Navy and Marine Corps achievement medals and has also been selected as the Junior Sailor of the Quarter for her squadron VAQ-209.
She is the leading petty officer at her work centre in Whidbey Island, Washington state – a job for a first-class petty officer, which she is fulfilling although she is a second-class petty officer.
“In the military – not just the Navy – when you join, the male-to-female ratio is so high, it is very intimidating. So, when you first join, a lot of people expect it to be a man standing up, so it’s no big deal. But when they see a woman coming through, it’s a whole different ball game – ‘Oh, she can’t do this, she can’t do that’ – so I feel like that’s where I got my voice when I finally made it through,” she told The Gleaner.
“Making it through, I feel like that’s where I found my strength. I finally realised that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was,” she said.
The second-class parachute rigger and petty officer in aviation warfare, who was promoted to this rank after five years in the Navy, said that one of the most challenging moments she faced was after giving birth to her now-21-month-old son, Rashad, and was deployed for the second time to Misawa, Japan, in 2020.
“It was especially hard because I’m a single mom. I had just had my son ... . He wasn’t even one yet, and a couple weeks later I had to leave him, so that was especially hard for me,” she said.
Ince said she maintains her resilience because her family never ceases to pray for her or to encourage her.
“It’s very hard. I sympathise with single mothers, because it’s not easy at all ... [but] prayers and knowing that I’m not just doing this for myself, but for my son, my sisters back home, and other young women that are single moms and black women, especially [keep me motivated],” she said.
Her stepfather, the Reverend Dr Andre Bennett, described Ince as “an absolute rockstar”, who continues to make the family proud.
“Having watched this young lady emerge from this shy, almost awkward teenager to this amazingly powerful, strong mother, woman, leader, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” he shared.
Ince remains humble, as she believes that it doesn’t matter where you live or where you are coming from, you can always get to where you want to go.
She pays homage to her hometown with an inscription on the side of her jet: ‘Spanish Town, Jamaica’.
“Me a go always big up ‘De La’ because that’s my home. That’s what I remember. That’s where most of my struggles came from, [and] that’s where most of my strength came from,” she said, despite being born in St Thomas and spending some of her earlier years in Portland.
“I know that everybody always think that everybody is from Kingston, Jamaica, but we’re not, so that’s where the Spanish Town aspect came from,” she said, explaining that the opportunity to inscribe a location and name was not given to everyone, but it was a congratulatory gesture for her accomplishments.
Ince stated that the Navy has provided her with financial security, a platform from which to advocate for change, and an avenue to inspire the younger generation. She expressed gratitude for her position, saying that she had no regrets about her choice.
Due to the fact that it took her “quite a long time” to find her voice, Ince encourages children to “never compare yourself to someone else” or their circumstances.
“I am not going to be silent. I am thankful for my struggles because, without them, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strengths,” she said.