Female Enlisted Sailors Can Now Apply for Submarine Duty Year-Round

Chief Culinary Specialist Dominique Saavedra, assigned to USS Michigan, is pinned with her enlisted submarine qualification during a ceremony at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. (U.S. Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kenneth G. Takada)
Chief Culinary Specialist Dominique Saavedra, assigned to USS Michigan, is pinned with her enlisted submarine qualification during a ceremony at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. (U.S. Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kenneth G. Takada)

The Navy took another step toward its goal of filling 20% of all submarine jobs with women this week when leaders announced that female sailors who want to move into the community can now apply to do so year-round.

Female enlisted sailors can now apply to move into one of 11 non-nuclear ratings on a rolling basis. Enlisted women were previously limited to applying to serve on specific submarines during set application windows.

"We have eight submarine crews that are integrated [with female enlisted sailors]," said Lt. Cmdr. Adam Cole, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. "With that pool of enlisted female submariners already in place, we can now manage the community ... while continuing to integrate future crews."

The Navy will process applications as they're received for women in the rank of E-6 or below who want to train to serve on subs as yeomen, culinary specialists, logistics specialists, sonar technicians, fire control technicians, electronics technicians-navigation, electronics technician communications, information systems technicians, machinist’s mate-weapons, machinist’s mate-auxiliary or independent-duty corpsmen.

E-7s and E-8s can apply to be information systems technicians, logistics specialists, culinary specialists and yeomen.

"A key point here is that, with this change to an ongoing process, the sailor conversion process for the Submarine Force is now gender-neutral," Cole said. "... Enlisted community managers have been given guidance that a male enlisted submariner can replace a female enlisted submariner in a specific rating -- and vice versa -- as long as the enlisted community managers maintain the overall male-to-female ratio of the specific submarine."

That ratio varies by boat. On Ohio-class subs, the goal is 32 women, of which 27 are E-6 and below. On Virginia-class subs, the number dips to 25 women, of which 20 are E-6 and below.

There are currently about 285 women serving on subs, of which nearly three-quarters are enlisted. Those numbers don't include female submariners finished with sea duty who are now serving at shore commands or are still in their initial training pipeline, Cole said.

Female enlisted sailors are assigned only to submarines that have women officers in place.

Enlisted women began serving on subs in 2015, and were previously given four set chances to apply to join the crews. Nuclear ratings are open to new enlistees, but female sailors currently serving in other ratings can apply to switch only into some non-nuclear jobs.

The move hasn't come without challenges. Last year, the commanding officer of the guided-missile submarine Florida's Gold Crew was relieved after leaders found he failed to address women's safety concerns when a "rape list" that ranked female crew members' looks surfaced. And in 2014, several female officers and midshipmen were recorded while they undressed on the ballistic-missile submarine Wyoming.

The Wyoming's blue and gold crews will be the next to accept female enlisted sailors in the spring of 2020, once the required berthing modifications are complete, Cole said.

Vice Adm. Chas Richard, commander of U.S. Submarine Forces, told Military.com in May the problems aboard the Florida were not indicative of a wider problem in the submarine community.

"I expect every submariner to treat one another with dignity and respect, and will hold our personnel accountable if they fall short of our standard," he said.

Sailors from all communities are eligible to apply for submarine service and are urged to do so sooner rather than later.

"Since available rating quotas will be filled as applications are processed, it is recommended that sailors submit applications as soon as possible," states Navy administrative message 159/19, which announced the changes.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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