Lea Gabrielle brings her 12 years of experience handling high-pressure situations as a naval aviator and operational intelligence officer to her new job as a Fox News reporter. (Fox News)
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Former Lt. Cmdr. Lea Potts earned the call sign “flower” from squadron-mates in reference to her last name. She goes by Lea Gabrielle on air.
Lea Gabrielle brings a well-honed skill to cable news’ lights and cameras: a fighter jock’s composure.
Gabrielle, 39, the new lead correspondent for Fox News’ Shepard Smith Reporting, served 12 years as a naval officer on active duty before leaving to pursue TV journalism in 2009.
She quickly ascended the rungs of the news business, having handled more stressful situations. In the Navy, she landed single-seat F/A-18 Hornets on the aircraft carrier George Washington — including one nighttime close call — and later served alongside Navy SEALs as an operational intelligence officer, joining the teams on countless missions outside the wire.
The 1997 Naval Academy grad did not start out wanting to be a TV reporter, but says the military gave her the confidence to navigate stressful situations.
She spoke to Military Times in April about her service, her high-profile job and some of the news stories in which she brought her veteran’s perspective to bear.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. What do you carry into journalism from your time in the military?
A. Anyone who has served in the past decade has been involved in war in some aspect. We’re people who know how to improvise, adapt and overcome. I think that being able to thrive under stress and being able to take a fast-moving, ambiguous situation and make sense of it all has helped me.
Q. What’s more stressful: TV news deadlines or landing on an aircraft carrier at night?
A. It matters that we get our stories right. And it matters that the story’s on time and to get people answers that they really deserve. I think that’s what journalists do. So the stress, sometimes it can be quite similar. And when you’re on TV, when you make mistakes, everyone sees you. That’s the difference. But if I really had to sum it up, I’m not sure there’s anything that’s more stressful than going and flying a combat mission and then coming back and having to land on an aircraft carrier at night — of the things that I did.
Q. In 2002, the F/A-18C you were flying had an engine burn-out. How did you handle that?
A. I was coming in to land on the carrier, and my right engine essentially came apart. It failed. It had an engine fire in it. I had to shut the engine down and had to come and land on the ship at night with just one engine. There was no divert — it was blue-water operations. And it was a pretty stressful situation. But I came in and landed safely at the first opportunity. I got the OK underline, which is the best grade you can get. It’s reserved only for when you have an emergency.
Q. What was it like be a female fighter pilot in the late 1990s, and what did you take from that experience into journalism, where women are also in the minority?
A. I feel like journalism actually is a lot more balanced between men and women than anyplace I ever worked in the Navy. The F/A-18 [Hornet] community, when I was there, was not an easy place for a woman, I don’t think. But all my experiences there taught me about myself, helped me grow and are part of who I am today.
Q. What veterans’ stories have really meant something to you personally?
A. One of the ones that really jumps out to me is the Montford Point Marines. They had never really been recognized for their service. They were the first black Marines. There were two retired Marines in Oceanside, California, that own a furniture shop there. And I interviewed them on the day Congress was voting on whether to give them the Congressional Gold Medal. I was sitting there as one of them got the call that he would be honored by Congress. He had tears in his eyes. It gives me the chills thinking about being there that day.