Back in September 2009, when the Navy was seriously considering allowing women to serve aboard its nuclear submarines, I posted an article titled, “Should Women Serve on Submarines?” and, at the end, asked, “What do you think?”
With a couple of exceptions, most of the readers saw no problem with this change in policy or had some reasonable, practical reasons for opposing women serving on our submarines.
One woman gave several reasons for her opposition. In addition to bringing up the cost (in dollars and in space) to separate the men and women and the “sexual tension” factor, she suggested, perhaps playfully:
As a woman I know it is very hard for women to get along. Women are catty. Women get jealous. This would be ten times worse if they were on cramped close quarters unable to get away from each other. No work would get done.
One of the main reasons men go submarines is to get away from women. How are they going to do that if we let women on them? That is just a random point that may not make a lot of sense to the argument but it is valid for those who really make it a point is choosing where to go with their Navy Career.
There was one reader — no longer with us — who not only strongly opposed women serving on submarines (“Suck it up folks, war is serious. Who really gives a darn if 500 or so women get to tell their grand kids they rode around in a submarine in the Navy? So we do this just for the sake of equality?”), but who also took the opportunity to launch into one of his tirades against gays in the military: “We have no homosexuals in the military what-so-ever. If you know one, post his name here please. He has lied to the military upon joining and that is a crime and must be reported.”
Another reader declared: ‘Suck it up, folks. We have women – and homosexuals – who serve with honor in our military. The ignorance of holding people back from reflexive objections needs to stop.”
In a related event, in April 2010, the Navy announced that a smoking ban would go into effect on submarines no later than December 31, 2010.
The reason why I bring up “gays in the military” and smoking aboard submarines should become obvious shortly.
But back to the present.
Today, May 2012, Navy women are serving successfully on our fleet ballistic missile submarines.
Just as with gays serving openly in the military, the sky has not fallen because of this.
According to Vice Adm. John Richardson, commander of submarine forces, the integration process has been “very successful.” The Stars and Stripes adds:
Twenty-four women have already reported to guided missile and fleet ballistic missile submarines and about 20 more will report each year. Fast-attack submarines, which are smaller and would require more modifications to allow women aboard, are still men-only.
The Navy is moving very deliberately with the integration process and will gather information from the first gender-integrated submarines before determining whether to modify submarines to allow enlisted female sailors to serve aboard, or to allow women on fast-attack submarines.
“We want to open this opportunity as widely as we can, but we want to make sure it’s sustainable,” Richardson said.
As a matter of fact, one of the first women to serve on U.S. submarines — delicious irony — is Lt. Rebecca Dremann, who is an openly gay naval officer and a smoker.
The Stars and Stripes:
As an openly gay naval officer, a smoker and one of the first women to serve on a submarine, Lt. Rebecca Dremann joked she was “the triple trifecta coming onto the submarine.”
“I’m a total culture shock to the submarine force and they handled me just fine,” Dremann said Thursday after a roundtable hosted by the Navy to discuss the integration of women into the submarine force.
Other women — and men — who are completing their qualifications and have already spent time underway aboard submarines echoed Dremann’s sentiments, saying the biggest “problem” they’ve faced is sibling-like squabbles over the bathroom.
If this is one of the bigger problems we have in our “gender-integrated submarines,” I say that we are doing pretty good.
Now, let me ask again: What do you think?
Photo credit: Courtesy ssp.navy.mil
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.