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Women now allowed to serve on submarines

This post by RDML Barry Bruner, Commander, Submarine Group 10, originally appeared on the Commander, Submarine Group 10 blog.

USS Florida (SSGN 728), Ohio-class guided-missile submarine, arrives for a routine port visit to the island of Crete.
USS Florida (SSGN 728), Ohio-class guided-missile submarine, arrives for a routine port visit to the island of Crete.

There have been a number of comments to earlier blog entries [on the Commander, Submarine Group 10 blog] about women in submarines. I have not been ignoring them; rather our nation’s law requires that both houses of congress be in session for 30 days after notification before a change in manning policy such as this can go in effect. Yesterday marked the 30th day – so I can now discuss the plan and the reasons for it.

1. There is a need: The change in the policy to allow women to serve on submarines is applicable to both officer and enlisted – but, right now the plan is only focused on bringing officers onboard. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important being that selectivity demands we open the aperture for officer selection. In 2005 and in 2008 we did not quite meet our goals for officer accession in the submarine force. Over the past 40 years the percentage of men graduating with technical degrees has gone down from 75 to 49 percent with an increase in women earning technical degrees (an increase from 25 to 51 percent). Given this increasing need to open up the selectivity aperture – along with the fact that our SSBN and SSGN class of submarines allows for privacy and a viable career path for women, the logical step forward is to allow female officers into the submarine force. Based on the lessons we learn while implementing this plan I anticipate the Navy will then consider the way forward for enlisted women on submarines.

2. The plan: The plan in place assigns the first females to nuclear power training this July. Following completion of training (December 2011 or January 2012) we will assign two ensigns to each crew of four ships, two SSGNs and two SSBNs, one of each class in Kings Bay, Ga. and Bangor, Wash. Additionally we intend to assign a lieutenant or lieutenant commander female surface qualified supply officer to each of these crews as a mentor to the two ensigns. So – for the initial input of women that works out to 8 crews with three women each.

USS Florida (SSGN 728) (B) Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Bill Patterson discusses plans for submerging the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine with Jed Rauscher, a producer with Lone Wolf Documentary Group, while Lt. (j.g.) Reid Smythe mans the number two periscope.
USS Florida (SSGN 728) (B) Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Bill Patterson discusses plans for submerging the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine with Jed Rauscher, a producer with Lone Wolf Documentary Group, while Lt. j.g. Reid Smythe mans the number two periscope.

3. Women’s Health: Lastly, there have been a number of comments concerning women’s health and the health of a fetus (if one of the women should not realize she is pregnant until after the ship gets underway). A number of medical studies indicate there are no discernible medical issues that should preclude the assignment of women to submarines. Additionally, our Navy’s Bureau of Medicine has proposed three additional studies to further quantify and validate the low probability of any effects of a submarine’s environment on women’s health or fetal development.

I recently spoke with a number of our retired submariners who were vocal in their opposition to the integration of women on submarines. I appreciate their concern and as always, am very appreciative of their service to our Navy and country. Perspective is based on where you sit. We’ve looked hard at the impediments to successful implementation of the plan but given the need and the more open attitude of the current generation of submariners I continue to feel that this change to policy is needed to maintain the readiness of the most operationally active submarine service in the world.

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