Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is There Room on Submarines for Women? ; A Pentagon Proposal to Allow Female Sailors aboard Subs Sparks Ire of Navy Brass, Submariners' Wives

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is There Room on Submarines for Women? ; A Pentagon Proposal to Allow Female Sailors aboard Subs Sparks Ire of Navy Brass, Submariners' Wives

Article excerpt

If the military is a culture unto itself, the submarine represents another world altogether.

Running silent and deep for months at a time, with manufactured air and sardine-cramped quarters, the boats can become emotional pressure cookers submerged in dark and icy waters.

Now the Navy has been asked to add a potentially volatile new ingredient: women.

A Pentagon commission recently proposed that submarine service be opened for the first time to female sailors.

The move could broaden the recruiting pool for underwater duty, which like other branches of the armed services, faces a shortage of talented volunteers. And this could be one of the last gender barriers to fall in the Navy.

But critics, including top Navy brass, say the initiative would raise costs and increase the rigors of one of the world's most challenging work environments.

Women line up on both sides of the debate, with opposition surfacing in one group that, though quiet in public, carries considerable weight behind the scenes: wives of current submariners.

"The majority of wives and family members do not want women on submarines," says Tami Calhoun of Groton, Conn., an opponent of gender integration on subs and director of the Submarine Wives Club, a support group.

From the Pacific to the Atlantic, wives voice concerns ranging from adultery to stress and reduced morale.

Women have served on combat surface ships since 1994, and now make up 14 percent of the Navy's 370,000 personnel. But service aboard subs has remained closed to women, a policy Navy leaders want to maintain.

"The extreme conditions on submarines - submerged 24 hours a day for months at a time, in a crowded environment that affords almost no privacy - are a major factor that should drive submarine- personnel policy," the Navy stated in a 1995 review.

But in October, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, a Pentagon panel that reviews issues facing female military personnel, recommended the Navy plan to integrate women onto future Virginia-class attack submarines, which begin deployment in 2004.

Integrating the subs would expand the talent pool, potentially easing a shortage of qualified recruits that has persisted despite pay incentives. It's also a question of equal opportunity, the Pentagon panel suggested, allowing "the assignment of the most highly qualified personnel regardless of gender."

Women sailors say they're interested and able. "I would jump at it," says Cristina Brittian, an enlisted deck seaman based in Norfolk, Va., who has repaired subs in dry dock and is training to become a sonar technician on a destroyer. "It would be an honor to serve on board a submarine."

Not so fast, say many submariners' wives. Their top objection is the prospect that mixed-gender service in such close quarters - and under extreme tensions - may invite promiscuity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.