War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

28 ❖ The Ike Makes History

Haiti was a trouble spot for the Bill Clinton administration in the summer of 1994. A tiny, poverty-stricken country with a population of some seven million, Haiti is the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic makes up the remainder of the island.

Four years earlier in 1990, Haiti citizens went to the polls and elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide president. He was a controversial figure in the United States. A one-time Catholic priest, Aristide had been defrocked by the Vatican for refusing to tone down pulpit diatribes urging the people to commit violence on more-affluent members of the populace.

Eight months later, Aristide was overthrown in a coup led by General Raoul Cédras and his junta of military officers. They took control of Haiti's government, and Aristide escaped to the United States where the State Department provided him with a luxury apartment in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the first half of 1994, President Clinton had been warning General Cédras to step down and permit the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office or the Haitian strongman would be forcefully driven out by the U.S. armed forces. Clinton's threat to invade Haiti triggered a controversy in Congress and elsewhere around the United States.

In the meantime, U.S. military history was being made. Although women had served on Navy support vessels for more than fifteen years, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower would be the first combat ship to deploy with females integrated into its crew. On board the Ike, as the huge floating platform was popularly called, were 415 women, including nine pilots, and 4,552 men.

Earlier, a few million dollars were spent reconfiguring the Ike to accommodate female crew members. Bathrooms (heads to the Navy) and sleeping quarters were renovated. More heads had to be allotted to women so that they wouldn't have to walk far to find a facility on the 1,092-foot-long carrier.

Doctors trained in gynecology were brought aboard. Even the ship's barbers were given special classes in cutting and styling women's hair. Females quickly learned that their lingerie would be ruined in the laundry, which had no "gentle" cycle, so adjustments had to be created. Menus had

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