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The Navy will soon ask every female sailor whether she is interested in joining the submarine force, and the answers will help shape the strategy for bringing enlisted women aboard subs.
The task force that is figuring out the best way to integrate enlisted women into the submarine force expects to receive the results of the anonymous survey this summer.
"The ability to attract, recruit and retain quality female sailors is essential to the success of integration. It will also be a big challenge," Lt. Timothy Hawkins, spokesman for the task force, said in a statement.
Enlisted women could begin serving aboard submarines in 2016.
About two-thirds of Navy ships have mixed-gender crews. The task force is consulting with senior leaders in the Navy communities where women have served on ships and at aircraft squadrons, to understand their experiences and incorporate their lessons into the planning, Hawkins said.
Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, the commander of the submarine force, approved the task force's timeline for completing a series of studies and the areas of study for nine working groups on Feb. 10, Hawkins said in the statement. Hawkins described the group's "Plan of Actions and Milestones" as "the plan to build the plan."
One group is responsible for gauging how many enlisted women will want to serve aboard submarines.
Other working groups are looking at ship configuration, what submarines to integrate, or what modifications will be required and when; sailor rate conversion, or what specific rates, or jobs, the submarine force will use to bring current female sailors into the submarine force; and recruiting development and accession planning, or whether any changes are needed in the recruiting practices and policies or in how the training a sailor completes before reporting to a submarine is structured, Hawkins said. Another group will use the findings to craft the initial plan.
Soon, the remaining groups will look to validate that there is a viable career path for all rates and pay grades, study retention issues, and write the final plan with input from across the fleet, Hawkins said.
Each group is led by a subject matter expert and includes 10 to 20 participants from commands across the Navy.
The Navy lifted its ban on women serving aboard submarines in 2010 and started assigning female officers first to the larger, ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines. Female officers will begin reporting to attack submarines by January 2015, and, as the next step, the Navy is considering enlisted women for sub duty.
Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, the commander of Submarine Group Two in Groton, leads the 60-person task force. He was not available to comment.
Perry has said that the biggest challenge the task force faces is figuring out how women can have a successful career in the submarine force - which often entails going to sea for long periods of time - and a family as well, and that while the standards people must meet to be a submariner will continue to be gender-neutral, it may not be wise not to acknowledge that the life/work balance is fundamentally different for a woman than it is for a man.
A detailed implementation plan is due to the Chief of Naval Operations by March 2015. Hawkins said the task force's work is on track, and there will be briefings for top Navy leaders so they can decide what action to take by early 2015.