Women in Submarines: 10 years later
25 June 2021
NORFOLK, Va. --
Female officers in the U.S. Navy have been serving on multiple platforms throughout the Submarine Force for more than 10 years now.
In 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates lifted the ban, which barred females from serving aboard submarines. A year after the ban was lifted, the first female officers began reporting to Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.
“The integration of women on submarines served to increase the talent pool available to the Submarine Force,” said Lt. Sabrina Reyes-Dods, the Women in Submarines (WIS) coordinator at Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic. “Women make up 57 percent of all degree-seeking college students and earn half of all science and engineering-based bachelor degrees. Twenty percent of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen and 28 percent of NROTC midshipmen are women. With the ongoing challenge of recruiting highly trained officers, integrating women allowed the Submarine Force to attract the nation’s best and brightest.”
The WIS Task Force took the helm in developing a plan to integrate female officers into submarine crews throughout the force.
“The WIS Task Force was formed in 2009 to provide flag officer level oversight for the planning and execution of the Women in Submarines integration based on the proposed timeline approved by the Chief of Naval Operations,” said Reyes-Dods. “The WIS Task Force, a flag-led task force, developed a comprehensive and deliberate plan for the integration of women officers onto submarines based on other lessons learned from other Navy communities. This deliberate integration plan has been successful and has not had any major roadblocks.”
More commands were added to the integration plan to better support dual military couples co-location and the increased interest of women to serve as submarine officers. Based on other service communities’ lessons learned, the Submarine Force integrated commands with women officers first. In 2016, the submarine force integrated its first command with enlisted female sailors.
“Integrating senior women first was a key lesson learned from the integration of other Navy warfare communities,” said Reyes-Dods. “Instead of integrating at the lowest-level first as other communities did, we decided to pursue a top-down integration process in order to provide mentors and role-models for younger women.”
After a strategic pause to evaluate retention and accession interest, the Submarine Force expanded the WIS integration plan to include all homeports in 2020. By 2030, the goal is to have 33 different crews integrated with officers across all platforms and all homeports. A similar strategic pause for the enlisted women in submarines program is planned for 2023 to evaluate the continued expansion of enlisted female integration of the current plan of record of 14 crews.
Another goal of female integration into the Submarine Force is habitability modifications to maintain privacy requirements.
“Habitability modifications are only associated with enlisted integration,” said Reyes-Dods. “The Ohio-class was initially chosen as modifications were relatively modest in scope. Future Virginia-class, USS New Jersey and beyond, and Columbia-class submarines are being built gender neutral and will not require any habitability modifications. In other words, there will be available male and female berthing and head facilities to maintain privacy requirements.”
With the women in submarines integration being a part of the Navy for more than 10 years, the hope is that future generations of women are inspired by the rapid expansion and new opportunities.
“We hope that future generations of women will take inspiration from our current female submarine Sailors and officers to pursue their own careers as submariners,” said Reyes-Dods.
While the Submarine Force has a history of being male-dominated, there is no distinction between the term “submariners”.
“From its inception, female submariners have always wanted to be treated as submariners, not ‘female submariners,” said Reyes-Dods.
The Submarine Force is currently taking both male and female conversion Sailors and new accession Sailors in all submarine ratings.
If a female sailor wants to serve on a submarine, she should visit: https://www.mynavyhr.navy.mil/Career-Management/Community-Management/Enlisted/Submarine/Enlisted-Women-Submarines/
Sailors can also reach out to their Enlisted Community Manager for more information.
The mission of the Submarine Force is to execute the Department of the Navy’s mission in and from the undersea domain. In addition to lending added capacity to naval forces, the Submarine Force, in particular, is expected to leverage those special advantages that come with undersea concealment to permit operational, deterrent and combat effects that the Navy and the nation could not otherwise achieve.
The Submarine Force and supporting organizations constitute the primary undersea arm of the Navy. Submarines and their crews remain the tip of the undersea spear.