WASHINGTON, May 12, 2010 — A Navy task force is relying on the service’s experience with similar milestones as it works to implement the lifting of a long-standing ban on women serving on submarine crews.
In a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday, Navy Rear Adm. Barry L. Bruner, commander of Submarine Group 10 and leader of the integration task force, noted that the first female sailors were assigned to noncombat ships in 1978, and the 1994 repeal of the Combat Exclusion Law allowed women to serve on Navy combat ships.
“As we go back and look at the lessons we learned in both 1978 and 1979, and again in 1994 and 1995, the Navy’s got a great history of working our way through an integration like this,” he said.
The first batch of officer trainees has been accepted into the submarine training program, and will serve on crews by late 2011 or early 2012, the admiral said. The Navy is considering the cost of modifying submarines to allow enlisted women to serve on their crews, he added, though no timeline is set for integrating enlisted crews yet.
One concern about bringing women onto submarines was that living quarters offered little privacy and weren’t considered suitable for mixed-gender habitation, Bruner said.
“We’re trying in a very deliberate fashion to ensure that one, we’re treating the men and women exactly the same, and two, to be brutally frank, we’re very careful that we’re doing the right thing both in representing the taxpayers’ dollars and America as a whole,” he said.
Over the past 40 years, Bruner said, the percentage of men in the Navy going to college and earning technical degrees has dropped from 70 percent to 25 percent, while the number of women earning technical degrees in the Navy has risen.
“Today, women are actually earning more technical degrees than men are,” he said. “We really need to open up the talent pool so we can maintain the best options available in our submarine force.”
Implementing the policy change will begin by assigning three female officers in eight different crews of guided-missile-attack and ballistic-missile submarines. The assignments involve two submarines on the East Coast and two on the West Coast, each of which is supported by a Blue and Gold crew, Bruner explained. More living space is available aboard these platforms, he noted, so no modifications are necessary, permitting the Navy to move quickly on integrating female officers into submarine crews.
“We may end up with more than three or four women being brought into these crews – the plan right now is to have two ensigns and a supply officer,” Bruner said.
The integration of women into the submarine force is an emotional topic for some, the admiral acknowledged, but the Navy is taking the correct measures and is going about the integration in a deliberate fashion.
“As we implement this, we’ll learn lessons,” he said. “Based on what we learn, then we’ll make a decision on what the next step ahead is.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)