HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The first four of the female enlisted sailors selected for the Navy's "silent service" began training this week at submarine school in Groton, the latest milestone in the elimination of one of the U.S. military's few remaining gender barriers.
The barracks at the Navy base have been reconfigured for privacy, but officials say the first co-ed class of enlisted recruits is not being received differently from any others.
The commander of the Naval Submarine School, Capt. Andrew Jarrett, said he communicated to his staff that it will be business as usual. The only adjustment made in anticipation of the women's arrival, he said, was the addition of a few senior enlisted female sailors to the school's staff.
"We wanted to have some senior enlisted female representatives on staff who could mentor the young ladies as they move through their training," Jarrett said in an interview. "We wanted the young female enlisted sailors to look around and see senior enlisted female sailors, so they could sort of see where they might be several years from now."
The Navy ended a ban on women serving aboard submarines in 2010. It began integrating crews by introducing female officers, who already have been assigned to ballistic-missile and fast-attack submarines.
The Navy and its contractors are still working out design changes needed to accommodate mixed-gender crews on submarines, where privacy is scarce for all, but especially the enlisted sailors. While many volunteers say they are drawn to the camaraderie, sailors on the roomiest subs sleep nine to a bunk room, with four showers and seven toilets for the roughly 140 enlisted men. And passageways are so narrow that crew members can barely pass one another without touching.
As the Navy was assessing how quickly to integrate the enlisted crews last spring it issued a survey to more than 50,000 enlisted female sailors that found significant but not overwhelming interest in submarine duty. Of the 12,700 sailors who participated, 28.5 percent indicated they would be open to volunteering for submarine service, according to Lt. Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, a Virginia-based spokesman for the submarine force.
The military has been spreading word of new opportunities in the undersea force. A "road show" led by a special task force toured Navy bases earlier this year to answer questions from enlisted women about life on submarines.
The four women who began their training Tuesday at Naval Submarine Base New London are among the 38 female sailors named in June as the first selected for submarine duty. They are part of a class of 79 sailors who are in for eight weeks of training at Basic Enlisted Submarine School. The female sailors, who are in the Submarine Electronics Communications Field training pipeline, will then receive 18 weeks of specialized training in submarine electronics.
Jarrett said the women will have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
"It will be good for the Navy, it will be good for the young ladies, it will be good for the submarine force," he said.