For the first women to earn the coveted dolphin pin, it's decision time about whether to stay in the Navy. And so far, only It's been three years since the first female officers joined the submarine force, and it's about time for that first class to make a decision about staying in the Navy. But according to sources within the community, only three of the original 24 women have signed up.

The reasons span the work-life spectrum. The demands on a nuclear engineering trained submarine officer. The strain of balancing careers with a spouse who's also a military officer. A lingering sense of disgust after the submarine video scandal.

In addition to normal growing pains from integrating the force, the Silent Service also took a major blow last year when reports surfaced that female officers and visiting midshipmen had been filmed while getting in and out of the shower aboard the sub Wyoming.

However, that controversy isn't the driving force for many of the women.

"I would probably expect that most of the women are going to get out," Lt. Jennifer Carroll told Navy Times. "I don't know exactly what everyone's personal reasons are for it, but I think a lot of it has to do with co-location."

Carroll, 28, was one of the first women to earn her dolphins in 2012 as a junior officer aboard the ballistic missile sub Maine, and today works with the Submarine Force's SUBFOR's integration office in Norfolk.

Carroll said she is considering leaving the Navy instead of becoming a department head, However, she is considering leaving the Navy, she said, principally because it's unlikely she'll be able to find orders in the same area as her husband, an E-2 Hawkeye pilot.

The number of women who re-up for undersea service is a crucial test to assess whether the five-year integration effort will be sustainable and will yield enough women to serve as department heads, and eventually submarine skippers, to make the sub force appealing to young women. Officials expect original cadre's take rate to hover around the force-wide average for female line officers of 18 percent.

Officials are already concerned by an underwhelming take-rate among both male and female Some have raised concerns about retaining women in the force because of an underwhelming department head bonus take rate among nuclear-trained junior officers from the 2010 class, which that broke the gender barrier on submarines, according to two three sources familiar with internal discussions.

"Regardless of community or gender, committing to a department head tour requires dedication and sacrifice by our junior officers and their families," SUBFOR spokesman Cmdr. Tommy Crosby said in an email. "Submarine force leadership remains committed to mentoring our junior officers, male and female, as they face this challenging decision."

Keeping officers

Crosby confirmed that three of the original 24 women selected for submarines have signed up for their department head tour, and noted tha that the window for the bonus is still open.When assessing officer retention, Crosby said personnel officials factor in  the Navy 

Of the original 24 women selected to become nuke submariners, three have signed up for their department head tour, according to Submarine Forces spokesman Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, and the window for taking the bonus is still open.

When assessing officer retention, Crosby said officials factor in losses and time served.

An official who spoke on background said Five officers have washed out of the program for failing medical issuesscreenings, academic failures and other reasons. Something as simple as a shellfish allergy could disqualify a person from submarine service. The service also only counts those who have reached three years of commissioned service.

Factoring in those unplanned losses leaves the retention rate at 16 percent for the first submarine officers, Crosby said.

The actual retention rate is about 16 percent, when you factor in unplanned losses, because the Navy only calculates retention rates on officers in the community who have reached three years of commissioned service.

Crosby noted that retention for nuclear-trained women in surface warfare stands at 14 percent, and pointed out that one women from the 2011 year group The sub community is on track with female unrestricted line officers overall, Crosby said, which stand a 18 percent, and among nuke surface warfare officers that falls to 14 percent. Crosby also points out that one woman from the 2011 year group has already committed to being a submarine department head.

***TK aviation and SWO numbers***

"Regardless of community or gender, committing to a department head tour requires dedication and sacrifice by our junior officers and their families," Crosby said in an email. "Submarine force leadership remains committed to mentoring our junior officers, male and female, as they face this challenging decision."

Keeping womenfemale officers serving is a challenge across the force. In the surface and aviation communities, 36 and 39 percent of officers take the department head bonus, according to statistics.

But within those communities is a great disparity. While 41 percent of male SWOs stick around, about 22 percent of their female colleagues do.

And for aviators, the numbers show a 48 percent take rate for men and just 18 percent for women. Despite the low raw numbers, the sub community's retention of female officers so far is not that different from other major warfare specialties. Women make up less than 20 percent of the entire Navy and are much less likely to stay past an initial contractregardless of their specialty than their male counterparts.

Couple that with the fact that many more female sailors are married to male sailors than the other way around, and keeping a dual-service family together is a huge challenge. 

Carroll said that's the issue for her and many of her colleagues. for Carroll She said her options to be stationed with her husband for sea duty are limited to , whose husband can only do his sea tours in Norfolk andor at the Los Angeles-area Naval Base Ventura County, the options are extremely limited.

"I think our career path is really unique, too," she said. "We're opening more ports. We've got Kings Bay, Bangor, Groton. We're working on Pearl Harbor."

Women took another step this year, from boomers to ballistic missile to attack boatssubmarines, which means more duty stations. But 

Carroll stays in touch with her submarine cohort, she said, many of whom have married in the past few years. Of those, she said,only one is married to a civilian. The rest are married to other officers and in the same boat, so to speak.

There are also stresses unique to being a so-called pioneer, she added.

"Any female in the military can probably speak to this, that being a demographic minority or looking different from all the people you work with, there's a spotlight on you," she said.

The sub force is trying to head off some of those issues with the integration of enlisted women, she said, by keeping the ratio to about 20 percent.

Another important factor is the commanding officer. In her case, Carroll said, her skipper made it clear to everyone on the boat that they were all equal and would be expected to do the same things, no matter what.

"I think there already is kind of a perception that we're special or different or there's something big going on here," she said. "I think everybody feels that quite clearly. So downplaying that, I think that made the transition easier for me."

The goal is to get women through the initial shock of joining a force where they are still a rarity and then convincing them to  But The key will be getting women through the initial shock of joining a newly integrated force and convincing them to stick around for another tour.

Sweetening the deal

The Navy Department is trying to tackle that issue, for officers in and general and women in particular, with a slew of new measures announced earlier this year.

Among them is a fully-funded, in-residence graduate school program, expansion of the service's career intermission program and — in the future — getting rid of officer year groups altogether.

Officers can take up to three years off with CIP to raise children, or possibly work in new parenthood during a graduate school stint. But for those staying on active-duty, the Navy extended both installation child care hours and maternity leave this year.

Eighteen weeks of maternity leave sounds great in theory, one female officer told Navy Times, but there are still concerns about how it will affect careers.

"It's nice, but I don't know anybody who could spend four months away from their job and still do well," said the designated helicopter pilot, who asked not to be named out of concern for her career.

AsLike with CIP, she added, there are concerns that spending that taking the time off could jeopardize a promotion or come with a stigma.

"Maybe on the up-and-up it's not supposed to, but if you've got somebody who doesn't spend four months away from work and you've got somebody who does, and you're saying, 'Okay, which one am I going to rank higher?' You know?" she added.

Still, Carroll said, she's optimistic about the future of women on submarines.

"When you look at the first year group going through, I think there is more friction associated," she said. "I would expect the numbers in the first couple year groups to be lower anyway."

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said SECNAV mentioned in his speech that the service would work to make co-location easier for active-duty couples, while keeping their career paths in mind. For Carroll, however, the timing might not be right to stay in

"The idea of going back to a fast-attack is exciting, but the other piece of that is just it's a really demanding job," she said.

"So when you want to prioritize your family, you really have to decide if you're willing to go back to that demanding lifestyle."

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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