Groton – Since reporting to Naval Submarine Base in Groton a year ago, Class I firefighting technician Jessica Staley has become a supply manager at a local VFW location, joined the Lydiard Cemetery Committee, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Groton, and worked on Master’s degree in Business Administration.
This is in addition to its main function: to teach sailors at the Naval Submarine School how to track enemy targets and what weapons they can use before they go to sea.
But over the summer, she got started on a minor duty—a side role to help in driving—and was almost immediately thrown into a tricky situation, which pulled her out of the class she was in the middle of teaching.
Staley, 39, is the newest victim assistance call officer, or CACO, the person to be called upon when a service member dies or is seriously injured. She finished her lessons in July and was appointed to the primary CACO position in August, among six rotating people.
A few days later in August, a student at a submarine school had a motorcycle accident and ended up in a coma.
Staley traveled to Hartford Hospital several days a week for four weeks. She helped her family members with travel papers so they would be by his side, and helped them find a place to stay near the hospital. She explained the military benefits to them, and worked with the American Red Cross, Semper Fi Fund, VFW, and church organizations.
Staley said she helped facilitate transportation to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and that the man woke up from a coma. When August ended, someone else became the primary CACO, although Staley indicated she would have stayed if the man had not been moved.
Her own experience prompted her interest in becoming a CACO.
“I had friends who died in the army, and my family died myself, so getting a notification from someone who understands is important,” said Staley, who has lost a mother, a brother and a maternal grandmother. She knows the value of “having someone to take care of the details” so family members can focus on their loved ones.
As Chief of the Medical Division of the 32nd Submarine Readiness Squadron at Naval Submarine Base, Senior Non-commissioned Officer Simon Makuchowski helps coordinate CACO responses.
“Within two days of her appointment to CACO, she had already established herself as a contact person with a wealth of knowledge and a desire to help,” said Makuchowski. He said that in a complicated situation that came up a couple of weeks ago, he reached out to people with a question, and “everyone was like, talk to Jesse Staley, talk to Jesse,” he spoke to the NCO. Staley. “
He said Staley is sympathetic and intelligent but good at knowing what she doesn’t know, and has a willingness to “find the answers and build networks to preserve that knowledge.”
Makuchowski is also another commander of VFW Post 4608 at Lyyard, where Staley became Director of Supply, a role that involved handling finances. Makuchowski said she’s modernized the organization from “the kind of record-keeping like you would have seen in the 1950s,” and that she’s also spreading awareness about VFW at events like shows or the Ledyard Farmers Market.
David Nelson, a Gallies Ferry resident and District 4 captain for VFW in Connecticut, said Staley is the one who plays the devil’s advocate in meetings and makes sure others think outside the box.
“It always introduces the thought process that we ignore,” he said, adding, “She sounds sweet-talked, but when she says things, she takes a step back and thinks about it.”
Coming from a powerful military family, Staley said she got involved with VFW because she wanted to make sure veterans were taken care of.
Jump on a new chance
Staley grew up in Montana and said she always wanted to be in the military and follow in her family’s footsteps: her grandfather served in the army in World War II and her father was a Marine. She got married in 2006 and her husband was serving in the army at the time.
Staley lost 175 pounds so she could join the Navy.
When she joined in 2010, she wanted to serve on a submarine, and she was interested in being part of a smaller community. But women were not allowed at the time, and even after the first female submarine officer qualified in 2012, it would have taken a few more years for that to extend to enlisted sailors.
Staley became a network technician for the Aegis computer network and was assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze when the Navy announced in January 2015 that women enlisted would be eligible to serve on submarines.
“Yes, this is my chance,” she recalled thinking, and let the officer and director know she wanted to apply. Staley went to a submarine school in 2016 and said she then became one of the first 100 women to serve on a submarine.
She served in USS Michigan from 2017 to 2020 and was then stationed at Submarine Group 9 in Washington State before reporting to Naval Submarine Base Groton last September. Staley was pregnant with her 1-year-old while in Washington, and she also has a 9-year-old.
“I’m all about family,” Staley said. The “strong family side” is what drew her to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in her church, she provides counseling to teenage girls.
Staley is also working on her MBA, with a focus on government and project management. She can retire in seven and a half years, and her goal is to then work at the Electric Boat or somewhere like EB.