Cassie Clark is realizing a dream she first had 18 years ago — the chance to qualify in submarines.

Being chosen as one of the first picked as one of the Navy's first enlisted women to head to submarine duty,

Now Clark, is a year away from crossing the 20-year mark and as a senior chief has another six to go before mandatory retirement by Navy rules. But, She now plans to spend that time as a ese final years in uniform serving as a member of the Silent Service, living a dream she first had as a young seaman. And she makes master chief, all the better, she says, then she'll have a shot at serving nearly a decade as a submariner before her career is over.

"My first duty station out of 'A' schools was at the [personnel support detachment] at the submarine base in Bangor, Washington," she said in a June 24 phone interview. "I always liked the professionalism I saw in the submarine force, but at the time the duty was closed to me — but I do remember thinking that someday the Navy might open up this duty to women and hoping I would be able to apply when that happened and now it's here."

But even though She's already got two warfare pins to her credit, wearing both the Enlisted Surface Warfare and the Enlisted Aviation Warfare specialist, but isn't taking her next one for granted. that's no guarantee that qualifying for her submarine dolphins is a slam-dunk, either.

"I know there's challenges ahead, but I'm up for it," Clark, 41, said of the rigorous qualification process to earn her submarine dolphins.

As a senior chief personnel specialist, she'll convert to the submarine yeoman rating when she joins the submarine service in the next few months to begin training. As the most senior member of the first cadre of enlisted women submariners, she's also aware she needs to lead them her fellow female sailors as they train up and join their crews on the guided-missile submarine Michigan sometime in fiscal year 2016.

She's no stranger to sea duty. She first served at sea on the Spruance-class destroyer Paul F. Foster and has as a young sailor. Since then, she's also done three-year tours at sea aboard the forward-deployed aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in Japan and on the again onboard the cruiser San Jacinto in Norfolk.

Her shore duty has been at other PSD's until her current assignment to the Pentagon, working for the Navy's senior leadership. And now she's ready for this new challenge, she told Navy Times in a June 24 phone interview.

She said she thinks her surface fleet experience will help her, but also that she's realizes that though her experience in the surface force will help her, she's entering a whole new world and is anxious to get started to get this part of her career moving.

"This is a tremendous leadership opportunity, but I've got a lot of work ahead of me to get trained and get to the boat and and get qualified in submarines," she said. "But as a chief, I've also have to lead and mentor the young women sailors selected with me to make sure we get this right and have a successful integration of women into submarines."