War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

30 A Sea Cruise Plays to Mixed Reviews

Thousands of well-wishers lined the docks in Norfolk to greet the return of the huge nuclear carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower from a six-month cruise first to Haiti, then to the Middle East and the Adriatic, where its jets patrolled the no-fly zone over strife-torn Bosnia-Herzegovena. Tradition had been shattered: for the first time, women had been integrated into the crew of a U.S. combat ship. It was April 1995.

Swarms of reporters, photographers, and television camera crews flocked to Norfolk to cover the homecoming. Later, Time ran a story with the headline:

A HISTORIC EXPERIMENT ON THE U.S.S.
EISENHOWER PROVES A ROUSING SUCCESS

That journalistic analysis varied with the view of many male junior officers aboard the carrier. Between the time the coed crew had come aboard in April 1994 and its return to Norfolk a year later, there had been thirty-eight pregnancies, fourteen of them after the ship had gone to sea, and other problems related to gender.

Commander Kevin Wensing, a Navy spokesman in the Norfolk headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet, insisted that there was no indication that any of the pregnancies were the result of sex on board ship. The Ike had made several port visits during the cruise, he pointed out.1

The Ike's skipper, Captain Alan Gemmill, told reporters that women had improved the carrier's efficiency because of military skills. Another advantage of females being aboard, he added, was that foul language had been toned down. "I think we've become a little more civilized," he said.2 It was not clear how more-refined language increased the ship's efficiency.

A bonus during the cruise, said another Ike senior officer, was that wives back in the United States noticed that they were receiving better gifts from their husbands. That was because, he explained, the husbands had women shipmates with them during port calls to advise them on shopping.3

Commander Jan Hamby, the Ike's female assistant operations officer, told the media about the relationship between men and women aboard ship.

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