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Women say they're fitting in on submarines

Jun. 18, 2012 - 10:03AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 18, 2012 - 10:03AM  |  
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NAVAL BASE KITSAP-BANGOR, Wash. Six months after the Navy ended its ban on having women on subs, some of the first female submariners say they're fitting right in.

Since reporting to their boats in November, the 25 women who broke one of the Navy's final gender barriers have gone on patrols and all indications are that they've been accepted among their crews, The">Kitsap Sun newspaper in Washington state reports.

"The men adjusted to us being there, and we adjusted to them," said Lt. j.g. Megan Bittner, of the submarine Ohio. "It was quick. There were no big problems. No stumbling blocks along the way. It was just learning as a junior officer how you fit on the boat."

Bittner, 24, is one of 13 women assigned to two Trident submarines based at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor the cruise-missile-carrying Ohio and the Maine, armed with nuclear warheads. Another dozen are in Kings Bay, Ga., with the Wyoming and Georgia.

"It is important we are talking about our experience, not so much to say look at us but to show this is not the big ordeal some people thought it was, that it hasn't been the mistake some people projected it to be," Bittner said.

The women graduated from the Naval Academy or ROTC programs in spring 2010, then spent six months in Nuclear Power School in Charleston, S.C.; six months at the Nuclear Power Training Unit, also in Charleston; and nine weeks at Submarine Officer Basic Course in Groton, Conn.

Lt. j.g. Amber Cowan, a main propulsion assistant, met the Maine in the Strait of Juan de Fuca a week after she arrived at Bangor.

"It's definitely a different kind of atmosphere," said Cowan, a University of Washington graduate from Colorado Springs, Colo. "You're always working. You don't see the sun every day. You're adapting to a new routine, learning everything you need to know, getting to know everybody."

Bittner, an electrical assistant from Chesapeake, Va., flew to Guam, where the Ohio was deployed, and patrolled for three months.

"I found it surprising the sheer amount of things we had to study," said Bittner, a North Carolina State graduate. "It's not just the engine room or ship control. You have to be a jack of all trades. I've never worked harder, slept less or learned more than my first deployment, but I never thought twice about it because everybody's in the same position."

There are five officer staterooms on board. Women share one. There is one head for all 15 officers. It has a sign on the door saying whether it's in use by a man or woman. They also can use the watch-stander's head.

"It's not a big deal," Cowan said. "There's somebody always working, somebody always sleeping. You just go when you need to and there's no issue."

The toughest part is the separation, they said. Cowan is married to a former submariner who's now a flight officer in Virginia. Bittner is engaged to a submariner on the Jimmy Carter, also at Bangor.

The next group of female submariners will begin arriving at boats in January, joining the ballistic-missile submarine Louisiana at Bangor and the guided-missile sub Florida at Kings Bay.

Cowan said she'd advise them that they'll be fine as long as they're willing to work hard.

"Once you get down there, you're not a female, you're a submarine (junior officer)," she said.

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