Navy ready to put women on subs

(AFP)

The first U.S. women allowed to serve aboard submarines will be reporting for duty by 2012, the Navy said Thursday as the military ordered an end to one of its few remaining gender barriers.

The cramped quarters and scant privacy aboard submarines, combined with long tours of up to 90 days at sea, kept them off-limits to female sailors for 16 years after the Navy began allowing women to serve on all its surface ships in 1994.

There were some protests, particularly from wives of sub sailors, after the military began formulating a plan last fall. But it received no objections from Congress after Defense Secretary Robert Gates notified lawmakers in mid-February that the Navy intended to lift the ban. The deadline for Congress to intervene passed at midnight Wednesday.

Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, who led the Navy’s task force on integrating women onto submarines, brushed aside questions from reporters about the potential for sexual misconduct or unexpected pregnancies among a coed crew.

“We’re going to look back on this four or five years from now, shrug our shoulders and say, ‘What was everybody worrying about?’” said Bruner, the top sub commander at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in coastal Georgia, where the announcement was made.

The first group of women will consist entirely of officers assigned to guided-missile attack submarines and ballistic-missile submarines, which have the most living space in the Navy’s fleet. They’ll be assigned to two subs based at Kings Bay on the East Coast, and two others at the West Coast naval hub of Bangor, Wash.

Limiting women to officer slots lets the Navy, for a time at least, sidestep the more vexing and cost-prohibitive problem of modifying subs to have separate bunks and bathrooms for enlisted men and women. Enlisted sailors make up about 90 percent of a sub’s 160-sailor crew. No timeline was given for integrating enlisted women onto subs.

Bruner said 24 women will be able to begin training for submarine officers, which takes at least 15 months, this summer. They’ll be divided up so that three women are assigned to each sub’s two rotating crews.

That grouping will let all three women aboard a sub share a single stateroom for sleeping. The single bathroom shared by a sub’s 15 officers will be equipped with a sign to show if it’s occupied by men or women.

Otherwise, most changes will likely be behavioral shifts by male sailors who aren’t used to having women aboard, said Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Lombardo, executive officer of the submarine USS Alaska.

“The guys are probably used to walking to the restroom in their boxer shorts and stuff,” Lombardo said. “But all in all, I think the adjustments for the crew are going to be minor.”

One of the most difficult groups to win over on the concept of coed subs has been women themselves — at least those who are married to submarine sailors.

On blogs and online networking sites, wives of submariners have warned that close contact between the sexes at sea could lead to temptation and allegations of sexual harassment.

“There’s a lot of Navy wives worried about their husbands cheating,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Glenn Gray, a missile technician on the Alaska, who said his wife isn’t crazy about the idea. “I’ve told her not to worry, because I’m married to her.”

Bruner said that when his task force talked with the wives of submariners, the wives’ primary concern wasn’t that their husbands might cheat. Instead, most were concerned that unqualified women would be allowed onboard the subs to the detriment of the crew and potentially take jobs from their husbands.

Bruner said he found the opposite was true: If women are held to the same performance standards as men, as the Navy plans, allowing women aboard subs will ensure that each sub is staffed with the most capable staff possible.

The Navy declined several requests by The Associated Press to interview female sailors and cadets at U.S. bases about the policy change.

Women are currently allowed to serve on subs in a few countries, including Australia, Canada, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

About 52,446 women serve on active duty in the U.S. Navy, or about 15 percent of total personnel. Navy officials said women also make up about half the pool of potential recruits with educational degrees that qualify them for training as submarine officers.

“We literally could not run the Navy without women today,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement.

Sailors interviewed aboard the Alaska at Kings Bay on Thursday said they’re not opposed to the change.

But Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Merceri predicted there will be “a little more anxiety” when female officers come aboard for the first time.

“Everybody’s going to be really up on their P’s and Q’s, very formal and careful of what they do,” Merceri said. “After that, everyone will be relaxed and comfortable. It’ll be another day at work.”

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On the Net: Navy Submarine Force http://www.subforce.navy.mil

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Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this story from Washington. Russ Bynum has covered the military based in Georgia since 2001.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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5 Responses to "Navy ready to put women on subs"

  1. Carl Nemo  May 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Seemingly they’ll wait until they have a subsurface “Tailhook Scandal” before the Admiralty and the DOD realizes they’ve screwed up again concerning their “new age”, kumbaya, everybody wins decision to screw up that which is now excellent and functional.

    They are starting off by integrating officers into this program first. “Tailhook” involved the officer class engaged in scandal. So what happens when they integrate the enlisted ranks into the service?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tailhook_scandal

    Young men, regardless of rank who virtually sweat “testosterone” are going to have a tough time keeping their hands off the ‘cookie jar’. I also feel empathy for the wives of submariners who’ve been against this cockamamie idea from the beginning and I can’t blame them for having such a position.

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. b mcclellan  May 2, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    If they want to do it right the entire crew has to be female down to the bilge rat that pushed this horrendous reverse harem idea.

  3. Carl Nemo  May 7, 2010 at 1:02 am

    *

    As a followup to this article, I thought I’d post a current Yahoo news link article concerning the officer candidates chosen for submarine service. It will be several years before they come on line if ever.

    http://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/first-women-chosen-for-sub-duty-excited-19605966

    The cadets being interviewed sound like “valley girls” to me, with a “like wow” mentality. I’ll be surprised if any of them can make it through submarine training. No doubt they’ll make it through reactor school etc. since they were bright enough to get through the academy, but I have my doubts of them moving onward through the necessity of learning the complex mechanics of all systems on the boat and then be able to command effectively. I wish them the best, but I have my doubts.

    I don’t care about the handful of sub services that already have women onboard. Many of those boats are simply d/e’s; ie., diesel electrics and not nuke boats. The U.S. nuclear submarine fleet is the first and last response to an attack on the homeland from our sworn enemies. Only the best, brightest and most courageous should have the honor to serve.

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. Carl Nemo  May 7, 2010 at 1:07 am

    As a followup to this article, I thought I’d post a current Yahoo news link article concerning the officer candidates chosen for submarine service. It will be several years before they come on line if ever.

    http://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/first-women-chosen-for-sub-duty-excited-19605966

    The young cadets being interviewed sound like “valley girls” to me, with a “like wow” mentality. I’ll be surprised if any of them make it through submarine training. No doubt they’ll make it through reactor school etc. since they were bright enough to get through the academy, but I have my doubts of them moving onward through the necessity of learning the complex mechanics of all systems on the boat and then be able to command effectively. I wish them the best, but I have my doubts.

    I don’t care about the handful of sub services that already have women onboard. Many of those boats are simply modern d/e’s; i.e.,diesel electrics and not nuke boats. The U.S. nuclear submarine fleet is the first and last response to an attack on the homeland from our sworn enemies. Only the best, brightest and most courageous should have the honor to serve.

    Carl Nemo **==

  5. Doc_Holiday  May 14, 2010 at 5:49 am

    How is being stuck inside a submarine under hundreds of meters of water different than being stuck inside a surface ship miles from land? The isolation, the cramp quarters, and stressful work are still the same. The debate over this seems culturally biased and weak minded. What problem should I have with a woman serving alongside her brothers? I have seen hundreds of women going into harm’s way to do their jobs alongside males of a similar caliber. My only issue would be setting separate standards for women that are already in place for men. As long as a complete and unadulterated integration is met I have no complaints.

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