Chief Engineman (SW/EXW) Patricia Cooper was one of the first women to undergo riverine training. (MCSN Heather M. Paape / Navy)
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Here’s what’s in flux for communities with jobs closed for women.
Coastal Riverine Force
Expected changes: Service on small crafts is considered a ground combat role. Positions for women will be opening as early as July in the following enlisted billets: boatswain’s mate, electronics technician, engineman, gunner’s mate, quartermaster, master-at-arms, information systems technician, intelligence specialist, operations specialist, construction mechanic, equipment operator and hospital corpsman. Positions will also be opening to unrestricted line officers qualified in surface warfare.
Issues to address: Congress must approve an integration plan and timeline provided by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command in July.
Next steps: The first female officer and enlisted sailors are expected to be assigned in October.
Expected changes: The Marine Corps will likely integrate women into many noninfantry ground combat units and is studying whether they should do so with infantry, reconnaissance and special operations units.
Issues to address: The Marines are conducting studies on habitability, cost estimates and career impact on integrating women in these communities. They are also formally establishing gender-neutral standards for each military occupational specialty.
Next steps: The Marines will make a decision on whether to further integrate active and reserve noninfantry ground combat elements at the noncommissioned officer level in August; if it’s approved, women will report to their units in February 2014. Further decisions are planned for 2014 and 2015, most significantly whether women will be allowed to join infantry and reconnaissance units. Marine officials say their research will be deliberate and measured, and the timeline is subject to change based on what their research yields.
Expected changes: The SEAL/SWCC pipeline could open in January 2016. Enlisted and officers may be able to ship to training in March 2016 and June 2016, respectively.
Issues to address: A SOCOM Army general has said that the culture and demands of some small units may make it impossible to integrate women. In the next year, SOCOM will conduct studies and analyze the impact of integrating women in SEAL units, as well as define the requirements and standards for a woman to become a special operator.
Next steps: The studies are scheduled to be completed by July 2014.
Expected changes: The integration of female officers on submarines has already started on guided- and ballistic-missile boats, and enlisted will follow suit. The Navy is also planning to deploy women to the new Virginia-class submarines.
Issues to address: Women need to be selected and trained to enter the submarine fleet. The Navy will also be conducting habitability studies and cost estimates and looking at the decommissioning schedule to determine if women will be integrated onto the older Seawolf and Los Angeles class subs. A decision is expected on that by March 2015.
Next steps: The first two Virginia-class subs will be selected for integration later this year. Female officers will embark on those subs in January 2015.
Expected changes: The Navy is looking at whether women will be integrated onto frigates, coastal patrol craft and mine countermeasure ships, but it seems likely that between high costs and scheduled decommissioning that women may never serve on these ships.
Issues to address: The Navy is conducting habitability studies and cost estimates and examining the ships’ decommissioning schedule to determine if it’s worth retrofitting hulls that are quickly leaving the fleet.
Next steps: The Navy will report on whether enlisted women will be assigned to these three classes of ships in June 2014.
Women will be able to serve in nearly every Navy billet by January 2016, according to the Navy’s official plan to integrate female sailors into new jobs across the fleet.
But even with these changes, some jobs are likely to never be open to women, including enlisted billets on some surface and sub vessels, as well as special operations units.
A lot of the final determinations are going to require more study and some cost-benefit analysis.
The surface force will report to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in June 2014 on whether they will assign women to frigates, coastal patrol craft and mine counter measure ships, the Navy stated in its “service implementation plan.”
Making these vessels co-ed may be cost-prohibitive, the Navy has warned, with the ships nearing the end of their service lives. The same goes for Seawolf- and Los Angeles-class submarines.
Will female sailors be disappointed if billets on these ships remain closed? Rear Adm. Tony Kurta, the director of military personnel, plans and policy, said he doubts it. The main concern is whether job limitations were also limiting a female sailor’s chances to advance her career, Kurta said.
“If you’re a woman and you want to go aboard a ship, we have plenty of ships for you,” Kurta said. “You have more than equal professional opportunity on all the other classes of ships.”
All of the frigates, PCs and MCMs will be decommissioned by 2024, the report states. There are plenty of opportunities for female sailors, for example, with the additions of destroyers and littoral combat ships, Kurta said.
“Everybody has their own desire for the ship type they would want to be on, but if you’re a really hard-charging anybody in the surface force ... everyone wants to go on the newest, most technologically advanced ship,” he said.
The surface force has a year to put together their argument regarding putting women on these ships, including coming up with how much it would cost to retrofit each class.
“We’ve changed the conversation. We’re saying the default is not closed, the default is everything is open,” Kurta said. “If you want to keep something closed, now you have to go ask everyone’s permission.”
Regarding subs, Kurta said, “If you’re an aspiring, young submarine officer, you want the newest and shiniest submarine out there, which is the Virginia class. There’ll probably be more opportunity than we have trained women for quite a few years on the Virginia class.”
SEALs and ground combat
There’s been a lot of buzz about female Navy SEALs. And while that’s a possibility the Navy is planning for, officials are going to refer to U.S. Special Operations Command for guidance.
Army Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, the director of force management and development for SOCOM, said that the culture of some small teams may make it difficult to integrate women.
“We don’t deploy in large formations. I mean, we send a 12-man or 18-man or even smaller [unit] into very austere or remote environments by themselves. In many respects they may be the only Americans serving in a particular country. And so I think that complicates, you know, integration,” he said June 18 when services all unveiled their plans for integration.
Despite SOCOM concerns, the Navy is still estimating the first enlisted women could ship to SEAL training by March 2016, and the officers will get their shot in June of that year.
But Kurta said the Navy will follow whatever recommendation SOCOM makes once studies are complete by July 2014. The Navy will also follow whatever the Marine Corps decides about allowing women in ground combat jobs.
“If the Marines did not open anymore positions, that doesn’t really limit the professional opportunity of our females in the Navy, because the people we assign to the Marine Corps ... all have alternate professional opportunities within the Navy,” Kurta said.
Riverine jobs open
While a lot of jobs are requiring further study, the Navy is quickly poised to open billets aboard coastal riverine force small craft, pending congressional approval. The first officer and enlisted women could begin training for coastal riverine force duty in July and be assigned to Riverine small craft by October.
While Kurta has not yet seen a plan from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, he doesn’t expect the training to change. The first four women to go through the Riverine Combat Skills Course graduated in October, after a merger made the course available to women — even though small craft billets were not yet open.
The curriculum at the school was not changed to accommodate the women. While all four said the intensive physical training with weighted vests or packs was difficult, none thought it needed to be tailored to accommodate female participants.
“We’re able to compete,” Chief Engineman (SW/EXW) Patricia Cooper said.
Women on subs
The Navy’s plan also detailed the next steps in the continued integration of women on submarines.
The first two Virginia-class submarines will be selected for integration in late 2013, the plan said. Female officers embark on Virginia-class subs in January 2015, marking when female officers will be integrated on attack subs and guided- and ballistic-missile subs.
The Navy will make a decision in March 2015 on whether women should be integrated further on submarines, including the Seawolf- and Los Angeles-class subs.
Since women have been integrating on subs for a few years, the silent service will serve as a model for how women can integrate, Kurta said.
On subs, the Navy’s plan started with adding officers first. Senior enlisted women will follow, to bring leadership, experience and mentorship. Only then will junior enlisted women be placed in these communities.
“They will have a little bit more of a shared experience than those who are not of the same gender,” Kurta said. “It was a very thoughtful policy put in place by the Navy many years ago, we followed it to the letter, it has served us well.”