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Navy surveying enlisted women about submarine force

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. -- The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay July 15, 2012 following a one-year deployment.

Navy officials are trying to gauge enlisted women’s interest in volunteering for the submarine force.

Responses to an anonymous online survey, open to active-duty and reserve Navy servicewomen, will be used by a 60-person Navy task force. Headed by Rear Adm. Kenneth Perry, commander, Submarine Group Two in Groton, Conn., it was formed last June to develop options for integrating enlisted women into the submarine force.

“We seek input from professional women sailors throughout our Navy, even if they aren’t interested in serving aboard submarines,” said Perry, a career submariner. “Responses to the survey questions will help shape future Navy policy and are key to getting the integration right.”

Task force’s spokesman Lt. Timothy Hawkins says the ability to attract, recruit and retain quality female sailors is essential to the success of integration, and that it will be a big challenge.

“The work to develop options for a comprehensive integration plan is a top priority for the submarine force. There are very capable women who have the motivation, talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force,” he said.

In 2011, the Navy began integrating women into the submarine force’s officer ranks. Today, more than 40 women serve as engineers and supply officers aboard the fleet’s Ohio-class ballistic missile and guided missile submarines.

Leaders from each service branch and U.S. Special Operations Command laid out roadmaps last summer to begin moving female troops toward combat front lines. The process would proceed deliberately over the course of years and be accompanied by a host of studies.

Despite criticism, each service has had success stories following the defense secretary’s rescission of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment rule last year.

The Marines have opened more than 20 artillery, tank and engineer battalions to female officers and placed senior enlisted women into previously closed jobs as mentors for female Marines who might be assigned there in the future. The Navy used a similar strategy in integrating women into the submarine force.

Additionally, the Corps said last month that it plans to stand up a year-long, 460-person experimental task force comprised of both men and women volunteers in primarily ground-combat-arms specialties to train and operate out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. , this summer.

The Army opened up 33,000 jobs to women in 132 military occupational specialties supporting direct ground combat units, including medic, Black Hawk pilot, geospatial engineer and paralegal specialist.

The Air Force, which has fewer than 5,000 positions closed to women in special operations, says it is moving toward allowing women in all of them. The only roadblock is the service must work in consultation with U.S. Special Operations Command and the Army because of joint operations. The Air Force expects full integration sometime in 2018.

In addition to allowing women to fill jobs in the submarine force and researching the possibility of increasing those numbers, the Navy opened more than 250 coastal riverine force jobs for women last month.

Jennifer Hlad, CJ Lin and Chris Carroll contributed to this report.

kimber.james@stripes.com
Twitter: @james_kimber

 

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