Lea Gabrielle, FOX News Correspondent and Former U.S. Navy Fighter Pilot
By Devin Tomb
Consider this: You’ve been working in the military for more than a decade, rising the ranks as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot—even flying in a single-seat, carrier-based “Hornet” aircraft during combat operations, and later deploying with a U.S. Special Operations Team as an intelligence operator in Afghanistan. And you’re a woman. And you want to make an even bigger career leap into broadcast journalism. When Lea Gabrielle was in her mid-30s, this was her life—feeling a heavy pull toward the world of reporting, but feeling unsure how to go about it. Flash forward to 2015, and Gabrielle is a FOX news correspondent with a new weekly web series, “The Patriot Report,” covering national security. We sat down with Gabrielle to hear how her skills in the military served her work as a reporter, the story she’s most proud of (hint: It has to do with Iran), and her advice for fellow journalists and crew members after the tragic shooting in Virginia:
Levo: You were a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and intelligence operator for 12 years before going into broadcast journalism. First of all, thank you for your service. What accomplishments from that time are you most proud of?
Lea Gabrielle: What I was most proud of were actually the people that I served with. I worked with some of the most brilliant, amazing, incredible people who were patriots and really wanted to work for a cause bigger than themselves. I’m also proud of having the opportunity to deploy in combat operations and serve with a Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan.
Speaking of women serving in combat, two women just graduated from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School. What does that accomplishment mean to you?
LG: I think it’s tremendous. Those two women—no matter what else they do in their lives—have something they should be extraordinarily proud of. As a woman who has served in the military, regardless of whether or not I believe women should or should not actually serve with special forces, I am extremely proud of those two women.
Do you think women should be allowed to serve in special operations?
LG: Combat forces, yes. As you know, I served in combat. Special forces is a different environment. I think the military needs to be given the space away from politics and people who don’t really understand the culture of special forces in the military to assess whether or not it’s a good idea to have women in special forces. The military will have to look at whether or not women will make special forces stronger. If the answer is no, then they need to take a look at whether or not women may make special forces weaker. If the answer is yes, then women shouldn’t be in special forces. But that’s a decision the military really needs to be able to make on its own, with the space it needs to make a true, fair decision.
Switching gears, what was it like for you to start a new career after having served in the military for so long?
LG: It was really a big risk, because although I gained skills as an intelligence operator and as a pilot that translated into certain jobs outside the military, I really wanted to make a complete change. I became passionate about journalism while I was serving, but I felt that it was a challenging thing to do, leaving the military mid-career and completely starting over.
Why did you decide on journalism?
LG: I became passionate about journalism for a number of reasons. One was that as a service member serving in combat, I really wanted to understand what was happening with current conflicts and know where we might go next. I also realized that there wasn’t much representation in the community of journalism in terms of people who had actually served in our combat boots. With so much reporting about national security, I felt like it was important that the perspective of those who served be brought to journalism. I also really appreciated how in a war that was in many ways very unpopular, the service members were still popular back home. I think that’s in large part due to journalists who were willing to put themselves in those environments overseas and bring home the stories of those who were serving.
What resources did you find were most helpful to you during your transition?
LG: The most useful resource to me was the network I developed. People tell you when you’re leaving the military that you need to network, and it’s so true. You can find people who will help you write your resume, and pull out the experience you have and tailor it to the job you want. You can find people who will help you put together your thoughts to prepare for an interview. You can find people who will help you get in front of the people who can actually offer you jobs, and so networking was absolutely the greatest resource to help me prepare to make my transition.
Was there one person in particular who became a mentor to you, and what did he or she teach you?
LG: I didn’t have a formal mentor, but I did have a lot of informal mentors. I’ll mention one that I had—a gentleman by the name of Peter Galasinao, who was a more senior naval officer reservist. He was really the first person outside of my family that I told I wanted to become a journalist. I was almost nervous to tell him because it just seemed like a crazy idea, but he believed in me. He was actually the first person to connect me to someone who worked in television journalism, and it was his sister, an Emmy-award winning makeup artist at a local news station in Chicago. That led to me going out and meeting her, and she introduced me to everyone at the news station—from the news director and the other artists, to anchors and reporters. She made everything tangible because she allowed me to see what it was actually like, being in that environment.
I can definitely imagine that being nerve-wracking, telling a senior naval officer that you want to leave the military.
LG: I think the reason telling somebody is a big step is because you know there will be a lot of people who tell you that you’re crazy, or that you shouldn’t, or that you can’t. What I’ve learned is to very quickly dismiss those ideas. Don’t let them cloud your head, because they’re just negative thoughts. Seek out the people who are going to be encouraging and positive.
Smart words to live by. At the same time, there are going to be speed bumps and setbacks along the way. What would you say was the hardest part of your transition, and how did you overcome it?
LG: The realization that I was really going to have to start over. While I was in the military, I figured out what my natural skill-sets were, and I realized that a lot applied to journalism. For example, working as an intelligence operator, you do a lot of seeking information, finding sources who can give you information, vetting them, figuring out what is intelligence, or in this world what is news. But when I left the Navy, I sort of had in my head that even though I went back to school to gain even more skills as a journalist, I still believed I could skip a lot of steps and get to a place that was more mid-career level. I was fortunate to be able to do that, but I did have to start at the beginning. My first job was an entry-level position with NBC, and that meant entry-level pay when I had been a mid-career level officer in the Navy. I had to take a big leap of faith, believing that the skills I was going to gain from taking that entry-level job were going to be worth the risk that I was taking by starting over.
What kind of work did you do in that entry-level job?
LG: I did everything from logging—which is basically typing what people are saying during 3-hour congressional hearings—to lugging camera gear all over Washington, and shooting video for the Nightly News at times. I looked for any any opportunity to actually write or report or edit or shoot video, and I also had the opportunity to do some on-air work.
What was your interview like to get into the program? And now that you interview people every day, any words of advice?
LG: When you walk into an interview, you should know what you want them to know about yourself. A lot of people today, when they’re looking for a job, think, What jobs are open? I never looked at it that way. I looked at it like, Where do I want to work? And then I used networking to get myself in the room with somebody who was in the position to hire. When I had my first interview for a job in the news business, I got in the room with the Washington Bureau Chief. It was a “Let’s sit down and talk—I’d just like to introduce myself” situation, but I went in there and I essentially marketed myself. I said, Hey, this is what I have to offer: I’m a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and intelligence operator and there’s nobody else like me in the news business. I can offer you a lot. And I think that’s what people need to think about before they walk into an interview. What makes you unique? What makes you someone who is really going to add value to the job?
Love that. Now that you’re at FOX, what would you say has been the most important story that you’ve worked on so far?
LG: One that I really enjoyed reporting on recently is the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran and its nuclear program is something that’s going to be in the news for a long time, and it’s a program that I happen to have spent a lot of time looking at when I was in the intelligence community. I can bring in the perspective of Iran in the larger strategic picture because there’s a lot of concerns about the way Iran is developing its influence across that region right now.
In general, what’s your advice for people who want to work in broadcast journalism?
LG: First, really understand what it’s like to work in broadcast journalism. Get yourself into the environment somehow, whether that means internships, or an entry-level job, or just shadowing people who work in this industry. Things always look different from the outside, and it’s really important to know what you’re getting into. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to enjoy your job and to look forward to coming to work every day. I’ve had jobs that I didn’t like, and I’ve had jobs that I’ve really loved, and this is one that I really love. I know that every day I’m going to come in and I’m going to learn something new, grow in my skill-set, and be challenged every single day.
After the tragic shooting in Virginia, what’s your advice for field reporters and crew members who might now feel unsafe or scared doing their jobs? What would you want to tell them?
LG: I would say that this is actually very rare, what happened. Including this tragedy, eight journalists have been killed on the job here in the U.S. since 1992. I think that really kind of puts things into perspective. As a local news reporter in San Diego, I found myself inside police lines during active crime scenes. There was also an active shooter scenario where I was inside police lines, so you do find yourself in dangerous situations, but it’s important to look at the numbers. Bad things happen in the world. When I was in the military, I knew bad things could happen while I was deployed. I had friends who passed, I had friends who came back not the same and they’ll never be the same, so life is about taking some risks, and you just have to make sure you’re taking calculated risks.
As a last question, how do you define success?
LG: Being successful is being willing to set goals that you sort of believe are out of your reach, and going after them with everything you’ve got, knowing that sometimes you’re going to fail. And when you do, it’s getting up and brushing yourself off and saying, Well, I learned something from that one, and getting right back on track. I think success is setting high goals, that you know are going to be a real challenge, and then doing whatever it takes to get there.
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Photo: Courtesy of FOX News