US Navy Picks First Female Enlisted Sailors to Serve Aboard Submarines

Sailors train two female midshipmen who in June 2012 were conducting their summer cruise aboard the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine Michigan. (Lt. Lara Bollinger / Navy)
Sailors train two female midshipmen who in June 2012 were conducting their summer cruise aboard the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine Michigan. (Lt. Lara Bollinger / Navy)

The U.S. Navy has selected more than three dozen female enlisted sailors to qualify to serve aboard a submarine in a historic first for the sea service as part of a plan to more fully integrate women into the undersea force.

In total, 38 women made it through the competitive application process for screening to join the crew of the USS Michigan, an Ohio-class guided missile submarine based in Bangor, Washington. The sailors include four chief petty officers and 34 positions of E-6 and below across two crews, according to the Navy.

"We couldn't be more pleased with the amount of interest shown by enlisted women in wanting the opportunity to serve in the undersea warfare domain," Rear Adm. Charles Richard, commander of Submarine Group 10, said in a statement. "It's an exciting time in the submarine force, as we continue to move forward in shaping the future of our force, drawing from the best pool of talent possible."  

Under pressure from lawmakers and Pentagon leaders to integrate more military jobs to women, the Navy in 2011 began allowing female officers to serve on submarines. There are now more than 100 women assigned to such jobs across seven vessels and 14 crews. Women, meanwhile, make up 15 percent of the sea service.

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    The integration hasn't been without controversy. Several male sailors were criminally charged last year for their role in secretly videotaping female submariners while showering aboard the USS Wyoming, a nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine.

    The videos, recorded and distributed over a one-year period, showed the female officers showering and undressing. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service continues to investigate the incident. So far, at least four sailors have pleaded guilty in the case, receiving as much as two years in prison. One sailor has been found not-guilty, and two more cases are still pending.

    Navy leaders strongly condemned the actions of those involved in the scandal, calling it contrary to the service's core values.

    The incident also doesn't appear to have discouraged women from applying for submarine duty.


    The first female officer reported onboard in November 2011 and the first to qualify as submariners were in December 2012, according to Kevin Copeland, a spokesman for the commander of the Submarine Force Atlantic.

    "Currently there are 39 nuclear-trained officers and 16 supply officers serving on submarines," he said. "There are six more nuclear-trained women scheduled to report in July."

    The first four submarines to accept women officers were two nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, the USS Wyoming and the USS Maine and two guided-guided missile or conventionally armed ballistic missile submarines, SSGNs, the USS Georgia and the USS Ohio.

    "We've got women officers now on SSBNs and SSGNs and the first women officers are now reporting to the Virginia-class (attack submarines)," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in January. "We will come out quickly with a detailed plan of integrating enlisted women into our submarine force."


    The female enlistees who make the cut for the highly sought assignments will be assigned to female officers. But first they'll have to undergo the standard submarine medical screening process. After that, they'll begin the training pipeline with Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut.

    "Though being selected for the first wave of female enlisted Sailors is a noteworthy milestone, the bigger story and accomplishment will be when these ladies complete their qualifications on their boat and earn their submarine warfare devices -- the coveted silver dolphins," Copeland said.

    With more interested female candidates than there were open slots, Navy officials said qualified sailors not chosen for the jobs will be placed on an alternate list and automatically considered for the next group to be chosen. 

    The second group of enlisted female submarine conversions will be assigned to another Ohio-class guided-missile submarine, USS Florida, based in Kings Bay, Georgia.

    --Kris Osborn can be reached at

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