The first women selected to serve onboard submarines have been identified. Some questions are worth asking…and they deserve answers. In the interest of transparency, the Navy owes the public – at the very least the sub community – an explanation of how these ladies were chosen for this elite duty. How many competed for selection? And how will future female submarine assignments be made?

USNI Blogger MIDN Jeff Withington recently described the rigorous screening process he completed for selection to nuclear power and the submarine community. Considering that annual nuke power and sub assignments were made last October, was a similar selection process held recently for these female candidates? Was some other process used?

Because the first group of females did not compete for assignment in October, they apparently didn’t compete against anyone except themselves. Until we know how many women applied, we won’t know how tough (statistically at least) the competition was. In the future, women should compete against for assignment to the submarine community without quotas, on equal footing against men and each other. Certainly the ‘right’ number of women need to be selected to fill staterooms and not leave a ship’s manning unbalanced, but otherwise, women should compete against every other applicant for assignment to this community.

Posted by Fouled Anchor in Navy
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  • hipowerdens

    I can tell you with certainty that you are barking up the wrong tree here. I’m graduating this June with a woman who is interviewing this coming week in D.C. for submarine service…AFTER having already interviewed and passed for nuclear power training. Since at least October of last year, when I underwent my interview (and probably since long before that) they have been asking every female who interviews for surface nuc whether they would be interested if the option for submarine service came up.

    They sent out a NAVADMIN late last year to all the ROTC units asking for applications for females seeking appointment to submarine service. The timing of the process has been such that any of the females from ROTC units, at least, would likely have had to complete the process for admission to the nuclear training pipeline before their second set of interviews with NR. I know that the option was only available to FY10 graduates, and my understanding (which admittedly, could be incorrect) is that they would have had to interview and pass for nuc selection by early this spring, at the latest.

  • Ted Peck

    Let’s be real here – this is a pioneering group, and it is not realistic that they would be chosen head-to-head with males. The Navy has as much at stake in them succeeding and I cannot imagine that they were not chosen with an eye to being able to succeed as submariners. Anyone who has listened to any stories about the Naval Nuclear Power Program interview rigmarole can’t say that it is a totally objective process. Having said that, they deserve the same amount of transparency as the program historically gives, which is to say, not a lot.

  • Kelly Hall

    I concur with Ted: the lack of transparency doesn’t bother me. I never expected any to begin with. I don’t see this change in policy as a grand social experiment, but instead a pragmatic way for the Sub fleet to get enough warm verticals to fill up the wardroom.

    What happens in a few years when the hubbub over male/female integration dies down and there still aren’t enough volunteers to meet the needs. Maybe we’ll have less boats by then 😉

  • DavidB

    I think long before we see the problem to which Kelly alludes, we’ll see the first wardroom female have to be pulled from a upcoming deployment due to pregnancy. And there’s not a ounce of chauvanism in the comment, just pure and simple genetics.

  • Shaman(formerly Chaps)

    When they do have to pull a female officer for pregnancy, the public will never hear of it. The Navy will not announce it and Sailors on the boat will be told to keep their mouth shut. The program of women in subs will be 100% successful with not a single problem, so far as the public is informed.

  • Actually – from what I have heard and seen so far, the 1120 Clan is going to do their best to avoid the mistakes of the pointy-nose 1310 clan from ’90s. This group of women seem to be the A-team, and for good reason. They are not only going to be high profile – they are going into a line of work with little to no margin for error.

    If you don’t have the skills to prang a pointy-nose phallic symbol on to something named after a dead President that Rep. Schroeder voted against; you might kill just yourself – or worst case a handful of Sailors. Dork up being a nuclear submariner, you can kill from dozens to thousands and have a huge strategic impact on your nation.

    No, until someone has some solid proof otherwise, give the 1120s some credit. This is going to happen, so they have decided to do it right.

    Just leave these women alone and get out of their way. They’re unqualled, have work to do, and you’re paying for it. They will stand and fall on their own – like we all do – if the busy bodies will let them.

  • Shaman(formerly Chaps)

    Not the 1120 folks I worry about. It’s the politicians, in and out of uniform, for whom political correctness is not just more important than anything else, it’s more important than EVERYTHING else.

  • girlswo

    They will be screened just as competitively as their male peers, and with all the people doubting, will have to be twice as good.

    One of the selectees did her midshipman cruise on my ship this past summer and I am sorry she will not be a SWO as I would be honored to have her as a member of my wardroom. She is going to do an outstanding job as a nuke, a submariner and a Naval Officer. I would bet we can say the same for all of them.

  • Fouled Anchor

    @hipowerdens – Many of these women were in fact already screened for nuke power. I should have been more accurate in asking how the others (three from USNA) were selected for submarines since they had previously been selected for other programs (one each surface conventional, aviator, and USMC).

    @Ted – “…this is a pioneering group, and it is not realistic that they would be chosen head-to-head with males.” The first part of that sentence is certainly true, but the second part needs some clarification. Are you saying these women couldn’t compete, or that the selection process would have been stacked against them?

    Regarding the lack of transparency in submarine selections, is it really any less transparent than that for other communities? I would suggest it may be more so because of the NR interview process, as subjective as it likely is.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    Everything good said about them is doubtless true…to some degree.

    Every evil thing predicted as a result of this will come true… to some degree.

    The rosy scenario stuff will undergo the usual fate for rosy scenarios. Collision with reality.

    In about fifteen years we will have a sub CO or two who is a woman.

    This is not something the Force needed. But life and unfolding history are like a piano…it all depends on how you play it.

    Best of luck to all involved. Watch your six, watch your step, and count your change.

    You are now recruiting from all of the human race. Screen carefully. Keep your chin and your standards up.

    It’s not a life for every man, and not one I would wish on any woman. But it’s a hell of a ride. Fasten your seat belt, ladies and gentlemen, bawds and knaves.

    From here there will be turbulence.

  • hipowerdens

    “Regarding the lack of transparency in submarine selections, is it really any less transparent than that for other communities? I would suggest it may be more so because of the NR interview process, as subjective as it likely is.”

    It is absolutely opaque. The Director makes his decision based on a sub-five minute interaction, and the interviews from earlier in the day. Each of the technical interviews can be as short as twenty minutes or as long as two hours, and it really is difficult to discern a pattern of any kind. The proof is, of course, in the pudding. There is a process, and it has tended to produce high quality personnel so far.

    I can’t imagine that the process was substantively different for the academy selectees. It is not unthinkable that the opportunity to go subs and be among the first females to do so was attractive enough to cause these women to change their minds. I could be wrong, but I don’t see the utility of making one set of selections based on merit and in a reasonable process, while using a separate process for another set of selections.

  • James Young

    I have spent years in the old Diesel Boats (in cold Pacific waters) and in the Nuclear Submarines (N. Atlantic / Med.). I left the USN because I wished to remain at sea and the Navy felt I should serve ashore.

    Despite all of the screening, some people are admitted to the Subamrine Service who, after a cruse or two, find that they or their evaluators determine that they do not fit into this environment. More than once, I have had to recommend that an individual should be replaced for ….

    The problems normally are found at sea after much screening, time training and expenditure of funds.

    I have worked with many women engineers and have found them to be excellent. They tend to be driven to perfection, I suspect from concerns males would use anything less as a means to degrade them.

    The only concerns I have are, privacy, close quarters, showers, berthing, narrow passageways and how will a person deal with a ‘bad’ day. You can say things, if needed, to men you would Never say to women.

    I have been married to a wonderful, very intellegent woman who is willing to do almost anything for many years. I took her aboard a Los Angeles class submarine in San Diego. She wanted off ASAP and it was not olaustophobia. She could not understand how I could have spent years in such an environment. I still miss ‘the boats’.

  • Roger C. Dunham

    With all that is being said about women in submarines, I have recently brought a more detailed perspective to the subject based on my years as a nuclear reactor operator (USS Halibut SS(N)587) and now as an Internal Medicine Physician. The Los Angeles Times published my editorial this week (reproduced below), outlining my concerns and I am looking for the Navy to answer my questions at the end of the editorial. At the very least, women considering service aboard an American nuclear submarine need to be better informed about potential consequences of such service.

    Women, subs and nuclear radiation
    Women are due to start serving on nuclear subs in 2012. But have concerns about radiation exposure been adequately explored?
    Roger C. Dunham
    May 13, 2010
    Should women sailors be allowed on submarines? The United States is poised to repeal the ban, and the first women are scheduled to serve aboard subs by 2012. But we must ask some serious questions before changing the policy.

    During the Cold War, long before becoming a doctor, I served as a nuclear reactor operator aboard a fast-attack submarine. During that time, I often considered the thought of women as fellow crew members. There was never any question in my mind that women would be as capable as men. The issues of limited space and the need for separate quarters could be easily resolved by a visit to any of the unisex bathrooms found on our college campuses. Furthermore, U.S. submarines already have separate sleeping spaces for chief petty officers and for commissioned officers; partitioning another area for women would be easy. Finally, there is ample precedence for both sexes living together in prolonged isolation and close confinement — on the International Space Station, for example, and in Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica.

    So why would I see any problem with allowing women aboard submarines?

    It is the matter of exposure to radiation that is most unsettling to me. It is the genetically sensitive tissue in women that is intimately involved in the process of childbearing that needs to be addressed, researched and commented on by our Navy’s leaders before they change the policy.

    While sperm from men are frequently changing and thereby present a reduced vulnerability to radiation consequences, women have ovaries that contain radiation-sensitive tissue fixed for the life of the woman. Damage to the egg cells remains with the woman until that egg produces a baby. An even greater concern is that women who (by design or by accident) become pregnant would then possess the most radiation-sensitive tissue known: a developing fetus with a small number of cells that are rapidly dividing and thus vastly more sensitive to radiation.

    It is widely believed by many that advanced shielding systems can adequately protect personnel from radiation and minimize the risk to women. This may be the case, perhaps, for larger ships, where increased distance of personnel from reactors can be protective. But on submarines, the nuclear reactor is near the center of the vessel, and sailors need to pass by that radiation-emitting system to get to the engine room watch stations, often several times a day. If a female sailor must stand watch, she will have to pass near the reactor four to six times a day, resulting in exposing a potential fetus to increased neutron and gamma energy as many as 350 to 400 times during a two-month patrol.

    Of further significance is the kind of radiation the reactor is emitting; not just gamma energy, like chest X-rays or mammograms. A nuclear reactor generates gamma energy, slow neutron energy (creating five times more tissue damage than gamma energy) and fast neutron energy (creating 10 times more tissue damage), as well as other types of less consequence. My former engineering officer recently informed me that he had absorbed about 5,000 millirems during his time aboard our submarine.

    In civilian life, a pregnant woman must first don a lead shield to protect her unborn baby before she has a chest X-ray (delivering about 10 millirems of gamma energy) or for a mammogram (70 millirems of gamma energy). But lead shields on submarines do not entirely protect personnel from the far more damaging neutron energy. Although the neutron shield system used helps reduce exposure, it is impossible to eliminate all neutron energy from reaching crew members. If a female submariner became pregnant just before deployment, the first weeks at sea could expose a tiny, radiation-sensitive fetus to significant radiation during a time when the fetus is at highest risk and before the woman may even know she’s pregnant.

    How much radiation does it take to cause harm to fetal tissue? We really don’t know. Any radiation is harmful to dividing cells, but detectable damage is much harder to determine. We know that fetal doses between 1,000 millirems and 10,000 millirems create a “low” level of congenital malformations, mental retardation, uterine growth retardation or childhood cancer. Is “low” acceptable? Is “low” reassuring if a future baby is not perfect? Would “low” absolve the government and taxpayers from liability?

    I call on all those who are working to change this policy to publicly address these questions before introducing women into the nuclear submarine environment:

    •How much radiation would women be allowed to absorb before removing them from the nuclear environment?

    •How many back-up nuclear watch standers will need to be available to replace women who have received excessive radiation, and how will this action affect the mission in enemy territory?

    •What screening will be initiated on the day of departure to guarantee that the submarine is not heading out with a pregnant sailor aboard?

    •What plans need to be established to remove a female sailor from the submarine, should she become pregnant during the deployment?

    •What are the maximum levels of accumulated radiation acceptable to the ovaries of non-pregnant sailors who might be planning a family in the future, and at what point would a woman need to be removed if those levels were exceeded?

    The public deserves answers to these questions, and female sailors volunteering for service aboard a nuclear submarine must be better informed about their risk before it is too late for them, or for the children they hope to bear.

    Roger C. Dunham, a doctor of internal medicine, is the author of “Spy Sub: A Top-Secret Mission to the Bottom of the Pacific.” (Naval Institute Press)
    Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

  • My perpesctive is a bit different from many that many of you share on this issue.

    Was this decision in any way made with combat effectiveness of the sub force in mind?

    Is there a lack of qualified men to man the existing subs?

    Does anyone actually believe that integrated subs will be immune from the male/female issues that ALWAYS exist when you have males and females living together?

    Does anyone here believe that once allowed on ships (there will be an obvious need for senior women submariners, as there was in every other community that has been integrated in the past 3 decades) that we won’t see the historical, frenzied and rapid promotion of women to higher grade despite the fact that some of them will be lesser qualified than their male counterparts and in some cases, literally unqualified for promotion?

    For those willing to consider what has actually happened in the past during female integration of other communities, you may come to the conclusion that the sub force is about to have a lot of unneccessary stress, politics, divisiveness, micromanagement, social issues and ultimately unit cohesion issues thrust upon it.

    This old Marine remembers when the Academy was first integrated. The politically correct flag officers, most of whom thought it was a bad idea, simply rolled over and surrendered to the feminist agenda and their own version of ACORN that was known as DACOWITS. Don’t worry the Admirals said, we’re not changing anything – no standards will be changed to make it easy for women to graduate from the Academy.


    Many standards changed – in fact, many were simply eliminated, mostly in the area of physical fitness and endurance related events. So many women had problems passing physical events that almost none of the men failed that the Admirals simply ELIMINATED the events. Some reading this are probably unaware of this, despite having attended the Academy, but it indeed happened. Over the years, the insitutional memories of this have faded as the eyewitnesses and participants left or retired from the service.

    Don’t let anyone tell you that integrating females into the sub community is necessary, or that it won’t cause problems that were never before experienced by this community. I only hope that we won’t see a repeat of the scandalous and in some cases, fatal, environment that was associated with the rush to get women pilots into the cockpits of tactical aircraft. Men were dismissed from flight school after receiving a certain number of “downs” during the course, yet MANY women were allowed to remain despite having 2, 3 or 4 times the amount of downs that resulted in male students being dropped and sent to a tin can to serve their time until EAS.

    Before anyone accuses me of being a dinosaur, do a Google search on “Kara Hultgren” and the sad story that is associated with her being spoon fed and unjustly graduated from flight school, leading to her killing herself as she botched a landing on an aircraft carrier. The Navy then engaged in one of the most pathetic cover-ups the sea service has ever known. They retrieved the “black box” from her aircraft and in an attempt to show the by now “tipped off” press that Hultgren was a good aviator, the had the flight data entered into a simulator and had other pilots “fly” her approach to the carrier. The brass was chagrined to see pilot after pilot “save” the plane and make a safe landing,which seemed to confirm that Hultgren has simply made wrong decisions in a situation that was recoverable.

    What happened next? They dismissed the exprienceeee aviators and brought in “nuggets” to fly the simulator loaded with Hultgren’s flight data, expecting of course, to see the novice pilots crash as did Hultgren. They didn’t – they too were able to make the corrections and land the plane.

    What next? The Admirals were simply not going to go on record that perhaps in this specific case, a woman pilot demonstrated poor judgment and that human error caused the mishap. These cowards were completely cowed by an environment in which NOTHING critical of women in the military could be said, unless of course, one had no aspirations of promotion, etc.

    So, they had the simulator modified so that it could not perform the specific maneuvers that the pilots were using to save the plane and land it while flying Hultgren’s flight data. Naturally, after the simulator was modified, ALL of the subsequent flights resulted in a crash similar to Hultrgens and at this point, armed with the data and conclusion they so desperately sought and sacrificed their integrity for, the Admirals went public and declared that Hultgren….well, you can read the rest for yourself, because what you will find on the internet or any PUBLICLY available Navy document is that it was an equipment malfunction, not pilot error that led to Hultgrens death.

    Seriously, look it up. I’m betting they don’t cover this sad tale in any lecture series that the mids receive, do they?

    You’re about to see women be forced into the sub community, and there will be problems that all casual observers will be aware of. Yet, all you will see or hear from the senior leaders will be that everything is working out better than expected, there are no problems at all and “we should have done this earlier”

    Everything I’ve written here has happened or will happen.

    If you don’t believe me, that’s ok.

    There’s a quote of Seneca that applies here;

    “Time reveals truth”

    Semper Fi