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Navy surveys female sailors for sub duty

Apr. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
USS West Virginia comes home
The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine West Virginia. It is unclear whether female enlisted sailors might serve on ballistic-missile subs as well as attack boats. (MC2 Ashley Hedrick/Navy)
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WHAT THE SURVEY ASKS
The 19-question survey asks enlisted women a host of questions about their interest in sub duty and how this might influence their career goals.
One prominent section asks a number of yes-or-no questions, including:
■If the submarine community was open to enlisted female sailors, would you volunteer to serve on a submarine?
■If you would not volunteer to serve on a submarine, would being able to first serve a single tour on a submarine crew prior to having to formally commit to converting to a submarine rating change your mind and cause you to volunteer to serve on a submarine for at least a single tour?
■Do you think conversion into the submarine community would negatively affect your overall upward career progression within the Navy?
Another section asks sailors to rate specific aspects of service on submarines on a scale from “very appealing,” “appealing,” “neither appealing nor unappealing,” “unappealing,” to “very unappealing.” Those topics include:
■Opportunity to be one of the first females to serve on a submarine.
■Smaller and close-knit community.
■Extra pay and benefits.
SOURCE: NAVAL SUBMARINE FORCE ATLANTIC

A survey meant to gauge interest among enlisted women for submarine service is going out to the fleet.

Every enlisted woman in the Navy will receive an invitation to take the voluntary survey, which asks questions about everything from their career aspirations to their opinion on how switching to subs would affect their career.

The survey was sent to reservists March 31 and to active-duty women a day later — more than 57,000 enlisted women, all told.

The task force overseeing the integration of the silent service’s enlisted ranks had received about 8,000 responses as of April 9.

“We’ve had a great response so far, and we want to ensure all of our professional women sailors throughout the Navy have an opportunity to provide their input,” said Rear Adm. Ken Perry, the head of the Enlisted Women in Submarines Task Force, in an email.

Hawkins said the 8,000 responses was a great start but that the task force wants as much input as possible.

The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete and will be open through the end of April, said task force spokesman Lt. Tim Hawkins.

Among female recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., there are mixed opinions about how attractive submarine service would be. Seaman Apprentice Jessica Gerken, who is heading to the fleet as an undesignated airman, said subs would be too confining for her.

“I get claustrophobic in small spaces,” Gerken said. “Also I’m from Hawaii, which is a small place, so I’m looking forward to getting out and exploring, seeing the world.”

But Seaman Chelsea Milburn, who is bound for mass communications specialist “A” school but ultimately wants to be an officer, said she spent some time on a submarine while in ROTC in college and found the command environment attractive.

“It was a small crew and they were all really comfortable with each other,” she said. “It’s a more relaxed atmosphere. It was really awesome.”

The survey is part of the preparation for assigning the first female sailors to submarines. A task force will develop a plan in the next year, Hawkins said.

There are 40 women, all officers, now serving on guided- and ballistic-missile submarines, Hawkins said.

Female officers have been serving on submarines since 2011.

Under the latest plan, enlisted women will join the sub force in 2016, although it isn’t clear whether they will serve on attack boats or only on Ohio-class subs.

These issues are to be addressed by some of the six working groups involved in getting women on subs, Hawkins said.

In addition, they’ll study how best to configure female berthing and how to ensure those who volunteer have a viable career path.

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