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WASHINGTON — The secretary of the Navy said the service is “moving aggressively” to allow female sailors aboard submarines, a move that would open another of the few remaining career paths currently closed to women in the military.

In a statement released Thursday, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he and other top officials have been working on the change since he was sworn in last March.

“I believe women should have every opportunity to serve at sea, and that includes aboard submarines,” he wrote.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, in his own statement earlier this week, noted there are “particular issues with integrating women into the submarine force” but added he believes they can be resolved.

In 1993, Congress struck down exclusion policies which barred women from serving in certain combat positions. Shortly thereafter, the Navy began allowing women to serve on some ships, but still bars females from serving aboard submarines.

Critics have long argued that forcing men and women to serve together in a submarine’s close quarters could lead to harassment, and the subs would have to be retrofitted with separate bathing and sleeping quarters.

But Roughead dismissed those claims, saying the move is an important step towards diversifying the fleet.

“Having commanded a mixed gender surface combatant, I am very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force,” he wrote.

Last week, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said he believes the military should “continue to broaden opportunities for women” and specifically cited the ban on women serving on-board submarines as a policy he’d like to see overturned.

On Friday, Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, lauded the Navy for promising the change.

“This is a heartening first step toward opening all positions in the Armed Services to women, who have proven their value and valor under fire in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said.


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