Women to Join Silent Service in 2011

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by Welmer on April 29, 2010

It has been 17 years since women began serving on US Navy surface warships, but until now submariners have remained entirely male. However, change is coming, as women are expected to begin serving on submarines by late 2011.

Not all submariners are thrilled about the idea. Rear Admiral Barry Bruner, Commander of Submarine Group 10, has been posting updates concerning the issue on his blog, inviting comments from current or former submariners. Bruner supports the change (that’s his job), but the comments on his blog indicate that quite a few have serious reservations about the idea.

Writes Karl Newman:

I’ve been underway on a SSN for extended periods with women and have observed first hand all the screwing around that goes on onboard mixed-gender surface ships. This plan to put women on the boats is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Karl Newman
SSN 688, SSBN 657 (B), SSN 751, CSG-10 staff, CSS-20 staff

Joseph Shook:

1. Wives of submariners will not accept this situation…this will greatly reduce the number of those skilled, married men who now serve!

2. Submariners themselves…they respect women and accept, like myself, their ability to do many, if not most, Navy jobs with great skill, dedication and efficiency. It’s just that it is not a proper nor conducive environment in which to combine the sexes…much like SEAL training. Extensive and expensive, plus time consuming, modifications will need to be made on those boats now operable and the submarine service and Navy cannot afford any of this. They are going to be hard pressed to maintain operational commitments as it is.

3. There have been two recent events, USS Truxtun, DDG-103, where the Commanding Officer, a married man, father of two and carreer officer, was just relieved for fraternizing with a junior female officer from his ship, and aboard the USS Cowpens, CG-63, where yet another career Navy officer and the Commanding Officer, this time a woman, Capt. Holly Graf, misused and possibly hazarded her vessel by “drag racing” with another Navy ship. These both sadly indicate how human we are, and intensify, I feel, how, where conditions are even more acute and living quarters closer and more confined, people should not be subjected to any more pressure than already exists. It won’t work and I know from contact with a large number of submarine veterans and current sailors and officers, over 99% do not wish to see it happen, all knowing it will not work as envisioned by whatever idiots have thought it up.

Joseph Shook, President & Webmaster
USS John C. Calhoun Veterans Association
Life Member, USSVI, Bowfin and Cavalla Bases
Board Member, Cavalla Historical Foundation
Admiral, Texas Navy, Commissioned 1992
Member, FRA, Branch 159

Jack Ensminger:

It is inconceivable the powers that be in the Defense Dept do not understand nature. It doesn’t matter if the women are officer or enlisted, when at sea for extended periods of time, with mixed gender, nature will take its course.

It is very close quarters in Submarines and a simple thing as passing in passageways will invite unwanted contact. IT WILL HAPPEN, NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE DISCIPLINE.

These people making the decisions need to do a 60-day patrol to understand how it works. They need to go thru Qualification. Qualifications alone will promote opportunities for mixed gender.

The other element I have not seen mentioned is the uprising of the wives of the married Submariners. They will give their man a choice, to sea with women or your family. If this comes to pass, I predict in a short time there will be gross disqualification of men from Submarines. And if that doesn’t work, they will leave the service at EAOS.

And then add “Don’t ask, don’t tells,” and the water gets muddier.

JB Ensminger
TMCS(SS) USN(RET)
Chief of Boat
USS Daniel Boone
SSBN 629 (G) 1972-1973

Even some women think it’s a bad idea:

Given what is known about current non-deployment rates due to pregnancy among enlisted women as well as officers, what is the Navy’s estimate of comparable non-deployment rates of female officers and enlisted women on submarines? (As the Washington Times article made clear, extensive programs to discourage Navy pregnancies have failed—rates have increased.)

How many mid-ocean evacuations are expected to occur on an annual basis and how will these evacuations be accomplished in remote areas; i.e., under the Polar icecap?

If a submarine CO is faced with the operational necessity to continue an undersea mission, despite high risks of birth defects for a newly-discovered embryonic “passenger”–what does the Navy expect the skipper to do? (Elevated carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the constantly recycled atmosphere are safe for adults but not for embryos in the earliest weeks of life.)

WRT life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, which are not statistically rare, how many women are likely to permanently lose reproductive capability due to botched undersea surgeries or worse—how many are expected to die due to hemorrhage in conditions offering no options for immediate evacuation via mid-ocean helicopter?

Elaine Donnelly
President,Center for Military Readiness

Some major issues are raised by the above commenters, including the obvious problem of jealous wives and pregnant crew members, but I didn’t see anyone mention the issue of sexual harassment suits or rape accusations. If there’s anywhere that these will be generated it is on a submarine — a giant metal phallus plunging through the depths. The visual symbolism alone will sensationalize any accusations (no, I’m not kidding — people really are like that).

Sailors will inevitably be dragged before courts martial for alleged rape, crews will be divided even while under polar ice, etc.

Putting women in our submarines is a purely political move supported by an administration that looks increasingly feminist with each passing day. Despite stated support at the top, sailors and veterans think it’s a bad idea. Looking at the situation objectively, I would have to agree.

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