- Most recently a senior advisor to the Secretary of Navy, she commanded the missile destroyer, USS Decatur, becoming the first Indian American, and only the 15th female officer to command a capital ship of the line.
Retired Naval Officer Shanti Sethi recently joined Vice President Kamala Harris’ office as executive secretary and defense advisor. Deputy Communications Director Herbie Ziskend confirmed Sethi’s appointment to Politico. In her new role, Sethi coordinates National Security Advisor documentation across the Office of the Vice President, according to her LinkedIn profile.
In February 2021, Sethi was appointed Senior Navy Military Advisor to the Secretary of Navy. She commanded the missile destroyer, USS Decatur, from Dec. 15 2010 to May 2012, becoming the first Indian American, and only the 15th female officer to command a capital ship of the line.
“In the Navy, you transition through various levels of ranks, where you’re doing some specific jobs, and then you reach the level where you command as a commander, and then as a captain,” Sethi told USA Today.
Sethi is a native of Reno, Nevada. USA Today says her “unique background has added perspective to the job that she does.” Her mom was born in Canada and became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of 12, while her father immigrated to the U.S. from India in the early 1960s.
Although she didn’t have a traditional upbringing as the child of an immigrant because her mom had been raised in the country, Sethi told USA Today that her appearance often made her feel excluded.
“My mom is blond and blue-eyed, and I am not,” Sethi told USA Today, “So I can remember as early as second or third grade being left out.” Noting that “there were very few Indian Americans outside of a few small enclaves” in the 1970s, she recalled, “being very different and being treated differently, even from a young age.”
Her step-father is Hall of Fame drag racer Connie Kalitta and she spent many of her formative years at the track honing her mechanical skills.
When she joined the Navy in 1993, the combat exclusion law was still in effect so she was limited in what she could do. However, when she was an officer, the Exclusion Act was lifted. “I was able to move on to have a career path that was much more open to me because I was going into this very male-dominated environment,” Sethi told USA Today. “I thought I needed to be tough and aggressive, and I struggled for a little while until I had some heart-to-heart conversations with people I worked for and people who worked for me,” Sethi said. “I realized that I just needed to let go of it, … and be myself, even if I am a little bit goofy, a little bit silly, certainly a bit nerdy. And suddenly I blossomed and really began to thrive in the community.”
Her decorations and awards include the Meritorious Service Medal (two awards), Navy Commendation Medal (four awards), the Navy Achievement Medal, and unit and campaign awards.
She graduated from Norwich University in 1993 with a degree in International Affairs She also holds a Masters of International Policy and Practice from George Washington University.
Sethi told USA Today that the experience of being in the Navy has taught her not to sell herself short or disguise her ambition. “You can’t be what somebody else thinks you should be,” she said. “You really have to become comfortable in yourself and say, ‘This is who I am, and I can succeed as who I am. I don’t have to pretend or try to be someone else.”