Friday, March 13, 2009

Navy Briefing of the Week - Let's Hear it for the Girls!

As March is National Women's History month, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate one of this month's Navy briefings to the contributions that women have made to the U.S. Navy, along with some trivia about the role of women in the Navy.

* Women have been supporting military troops since the Revolutionary War; many acted as nurses, cooks, laundresses - even saboteurs! (Every gal since Eve has been dupin' the fellas...). They continued to serve in these unofficial roles until the 20th century.

* With WWII, the Navy recognized a need for more volunteers and looked to women; they began accepting recruits into the Navy Women's Reserve, more commonly known as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). These women worked in communications, intelligence, supply, medicine and administration, and other non-combat areas. WAVES was directed by Mildred H. McAfee, the first woman to be a commissioned officer in the Navy.

* Up until 1967, the U.S. had limits restricting the number of women serving in the military at 2% of the total military population.

* 1973 was a banner year for women who wanted to take to the skies - it was the first year a group of Navy women earned military pilot wings. Despite that glass ceiling being shattered, it would take another two years before the Navy policy concerning pregnant women would change. Until 1975, women serving in the military who got pregnant or adopted children were immediately discharged.

* During the 70s and 80s, women trained to become pilots, but were not allowed to participate in combat missions, be part of a combat squadron, or serve on combat ships. In 1993, Congress repealed those restrictions.

In the last decade, women have broken most of the remaining barriers; females have served as astronauts, brigadier generals, comabt squadron commanders, and in other high ranking positions that they never would have been allowed to hold just twenty years ago. However, the Navy still restricts women in a few ways. There are two major areas of the Navy that women are banned from - Navy SEALS and submarines.

According to NavyGuy (and from what internet research I did), women are banned from the Navy's elite special forces because of physical limitations. The submarine ban is a bit more complex. Some Navy submarines are designed to stay under the water or "go silent" (meaning no communications, no surfacing, no activity that would allow another ship to detect them) for up to a year. The Navy's concern is that a woman could deploy on a submarine not knowing that she is pregnant, and then an unacceptable scenario might occur where a woman has a baby on a submarine; depending on the situation, the woman and child could be at great risk, there's all kinds of legal issues, and the sub may not be able to communicate or surface for several more months. It seems like kind of a long shot, but the Navy has never backed down on this policy.

While chatting with NavyGuy about this, he remarked that essentially, women are a non-issue for the current generation of the Navy; in his aviation training class for example, there are two females and the guys don't really take any notice, or think it's a big deal that there are girls in their squadron. Females do still have different physical requirements when it comes to physical fitness tests; most notably, they are not required to run as fast, or do as many push-ups. However, they still have all of the same academic and performance requirements otherwise.


Brooklet March 13, 2009 at 12:48 PM  

I love the "Gee I wish I were a man" poster...I have a large metal version of it hanging up in my house :-).

Mugs March 13, 2009 at 12:59 PM  

I had it hanging in my classroom the last couple years - I'm debating whether it needs to be unearthed and rehung here at home!

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