U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Barry Bruner, Commander Submarine Group Ten and lead for the Task Force for Women in Submarines, spoke in May of 2010 to an online Bloggers Roundtable on which I had the privilege to participate.
Admiral Bruner very articulately stated the case for women on submarines. And as a long-time feminist I was surprised to learn it has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with our submarine service having access to a top quality pool of future submariners.
He pointed out that over the last 40 years the percentage of men and women graduating from college with technical degrees has dramatically shifted. “Today women are actually gaining more technical degrees than men are. So we really need to open up the talent pool.”
The Navy has gone through the formal process required to make a policy change and female officer candidates are now entering the program. They will first serve on subs in late 2011 or early 2012. (For now only female officers will be assigned to subs.)
“There’ll be two female trained nuclear officers on each of the eight crews, and additional there’ll be a more senior supply officer on those crews that will serve both as a mentor for those new ensigns, the females, but she’ll also serve as the mentor to the male officers in the wardroom too.”
During the roundtable Admiral Bruner shared how he had presented the policy change to the wives of the current submariners. In a follow-up question that I emailed asking about how the submarines themselves have responded to the policy change, the admiral replied:
“When the male submarine officers are explained why the Navy is opening the aperture for female officers to serve aboard submarines, they understand the need for mission readiness and support the change. With any change, it will be a challenge, but these officers are true professionals and I believe that this change is the right thing for our submarine force.
“By nature, our submarine junior officers are very competitive and although females do not currently serve aboard submarines, the enthusiasm and performance of these new female submarine officers will bring a healthy competition to the environment.”
Admiral Bruner stressed how carefully this step is being implemented. But he also stressed the need.
“What we see is that 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, if we don’t do something, we may have a tough time being able to man our submarines with the top quality people that we need. So I think it’s the submarine force leadership trying to get ahead of the problem.”
I personally applaud the forward-thinking of the submarine force leadership in being willing to move forward with opening the submarine service to capable females. And I am also pleased by the admiral’s appreciation of those of us participating on the roundtable:
“The only way we’re going to get out to the public and to people that seem to care that we are doing the right thing, that we are taking the right measures and we’re doing this in a very deliberate and careful fashion is through you – through folks that put it on their blogs and talk about it in the press and on TV.”
I hope the American public will support this submarine service initiative to ensure our country has access to top quality people – men and women.
FYI — And if you want to read about how fictional character Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders deals with being the first woman on a submarine smaller than a boomer, read the novel now.
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