JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Misha Chalkley doesn’t think about the fact that when she graduates from Jacksonville University in April she will be the first woman from the school’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps to earn a post as a submarine warfare officer.
She thinks about her future and the people she will lead within the close submarine community, but she doesn’t think about her gender at all.
The submarine pipeline is a new challenge that will take her full dedication to complete, she said, and it’s hard enough for both men and women without worrying about being different.
Men were the only ones allowed to serve on Navy submarines for years until female officers joined them in 2011. Another major change came in 2016 when enlisted women joined the crew of the USS Michigan in Bangor, Wash.
More and more women are signing up to join men in the traditionally male culture of submariners, including at Southeast Georgia’s Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base where they are integrating the USS Florida.
Only 14 women from NROTC units were awarded positions in the submarine warfare program this year. The ones who make it all the way through will join just over 70 female officers who are serving in the submarine force, according to the Navy.
“I like that it’s really close-knit,” Chalkley said of the submarine community. “I like the fact that you can know everyone, and I think that helps make you an effective leader because you can really care about the people you are in charge of.”
She said she’s found out over the years that she can meet most challenges as long as she puts in the hard work that’s required.
Like when she joined the NROTC unit in her freshman year at JU and found out how hard it was to meet the physical requirements. Chalkley played soccer and ran track and cross country at Jacksonville’s Stanton College Preparatory School, but that was nothing compared to joining the NROTC, she said.
“I never realized I was so bad at push-ups until I had two minutes to do as many as I could,” Chalkley said.
But she found out that once she got the technique down, it was easy to improve. She said she knows some things will be even more difficult in her Navy career, but they will only make her a better leader and a stronger person.
That career is getting closer every day.
A year of nuclear training will start once she’s commissioned this spring.
The first six months will be intense instruction at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command near Charleston, S.C. From there, she will complete six more months of hands-on training at a Navy shore-based reactor training facility in either New York or Charleston.
After the first year, she will spend three months in New London, Conn., to complete the submarine officer basic course. When she passes that, it will finally be time for her to lead others when she’s assigned as a division officer.
Chalkley will manage trained enlisted submariners while she continues her own qualification program until she earns her gold dolphin pin, a designation in the Navy culture that shows a sailor is qualified in submarines.
“I’m ready for whatever challenges come my way because I have the background and support and the tools to face them,” she said.
Her brother and grandfather both served in the Navy, but it wasn’t something that interested Chalkley until her junior year of high school. Before then she was the type of student whose goals frequently changed.
A friend on the track team told her she was planning to apply to the U.S. Military Academy, and a whole new goal came to Chalkley’s mind.
She researched the different military branches and settled on the Navy. Then a family trip to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., confirmed that decision.
It crushed her when she wasn’t accepted as a midshipman, but she refocused her goals and soon found the leadership she was looking for in the NROTC program at JU.
“Everyone in the unit wants you to succeed,” Chalkley said.
She went from a freshman who struggled to do enough push-ups to the commanding officer of the battalion in her senior year.
The 22-year-old said she chose to major in math and physics because she knew that would be her best shot at getting into the nuclear program. Working in the surface fleet would not have been a disappointment, she said, but the underwater world of combat was clearly her top choice.
Chalkley said she’s spent time on submarines during two separate training occasions, and everyone seems to have each other’s back.
“Since the submarines are a voluntary force, you know that everyone is there because they want to be,” Chalkley said.
Despite Chalkley downplaying her role as the first woman from the NROTC program at JU to join the submarine force, she really is joining an elite club.
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union