Lts. j.g. Marquette Leveque and Kyle McFadden, both of the ballistic-missile submarine Wyoming's gold crew, are pinned with their submarine warfare devices Wednesday at Naval Submarine Base Kings' Bay, Ga., Leveque is one of the first three female sailors to earn the submarine qualification. (MC1 James Kimber / Navy)
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NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE KINGS BAY, Ga. Lt. j.g. Marquette Leveque looked to the sky when she graduated from the Naval Academy in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering.
But her future in the Navy is turning out to be much closer to Earth.
Leveque, 24, made history Wednesday when she became one of the first of three women to earn a Dolphins pin, something all Navy sailors must do within two patrols to qualify to serve on a submarine. Her husband, Lt. j.g. Luke Leveque, presented her the pin.
She received her pin Wednesday during a ceremony at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. The other two women, Lt. j.g. Amber Cowan and Lt. j.g. Jennifer Noonan, were awarded their Dolphins on Wednesday at Naval Base Ketsap-Bangor, Wash.
Leveque, born in Boulder, Colo., and raised in Fort Collins, Colo., accepted an appointment to the Naval Academy before the Navy decided in 2010 to allow women to serve on submarines, so it wasn't part of her initial career path.
"I didn't know there would be an opportunity to serve on submarines," she said.
But when the Navy announced that women, starting with officers, would be serving on Ohio-class submarines at Kings Bay and Bangor, Leveque said it was an opportunity she wanted to pursue.
Ohio-class submarines are the Navy's largest, at nearly the length of two football fields. They carry nuclear missiles on their patrols, seldom surfacing, as a deterrent to nuclear attack.
After graduating from the academy, Leveque attended nuclear training at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C., for six months. She spent another six months at the Nuclear Power Training Unit, also in Charleston, before attending the Submarine Officer Basic Course, at Groton, Conn.
As one of the first women to serve on a U.S. submarine, Leveque understands the challenges ahead.
The decision to allow women to serve on submarines wasn't greeted with overwhelming support. Opponents said women, while capable of serving on submarines, shouldn't serve because of privacy issues. The living space on the boats is so confining it could create problems, critics said.
Leveque said she hasn't experienced any awkward moments since she began serving aboard the Wyoming more than a year ago.
"I've really enjoyed my time on the boat," she said.
Leveque credited everyone on the boat for helping her earn her Dolphins pin. She said it was a challenge to earn the honor in less than two patrols.
"I am honored to be joining the long tradition of the submarine force by earning my Dolphins and excited for the journey to come," Leveque said. "I could not have accomplished this without the help of the wardroom and the crew of the USS Wyoming."
Now, she has the added responsibility that comes with an officer earning the qualification. Leveque can now serve as officer of the deck and engineering officer of the watch.
"There's more responsibility now," she said. "It's definitely an honor to be in this position."
Sheila McNeill, former national president of the Navy League, described a woman earning her Dolphins as "groundbreaking."
McNeill, who lives in Brunswick, was the first woman president of the civilian Navy League in 102 years.
McNeill, who attended the ceremony Wednesday, said allowing women to serve on submarines doubles the pool of qualified sailors to serve on the vessels.
"They're looking to get the cream of the crop," she said. "It's a revolutionary change in the submarine force. This will be discussed for the next 20 years."
Lt. j.g. Kyle McFadden, also of the Wyoming, also received his Dolphins pin during Wednesday's ceremony.