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Inexorably, with careful planning and a pragmatic eye, the Navy is going about the plan it announced in 2010 to integrate women into the submarine force. The service will be better for it.
The submarine force trailed far behind the rest of the U.S. Navy when it came to assimilating women into service. Under a pilot program, women began serving on surface ships in the early 1970s and by the end of that decade were an official part of the surface force. In 1980, the first class of women graduated from the Naval Academy.
Yet submarines remained a male-only dominion. The tighter quarters in submarines, the fact they patrol submerged for months at a time, and the physical demands of submarine service were all cited as reasons to continue the ban on women.
While it may have been slow to change, the Navy is going about it the right way. A 60-person task force directed by Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry considered and addressed all the challenges and undertook an incremental approach.
The Navy began with officers, with more than 60 women officers now serving on 14 ballistic and guided-missile submarines.
On July 18, the Department of the Navy forwarded to Congress its plan for next integrating enlisted women as submariners. It calls for adding women to the Ohio-class submarines starting in 2016. Submarine designers can more easily convert these massive Trident submarines to provide separate sleeping and lavatory facilities for women.
By 2020, the plan calls for having four new Virginia-class attack submarines outfitted for gender-mixed crews.
Women have served in the United States Navy for over a century, with nearly 53,000 women serving in active duty. Incorporating their skills will enlarge the pool of quality candidates from which the Silent Service can choose.
Women serving on submarines is not new. The Royal Norweigan Navy allowed female crew members on its submarines starting in 1985 and most of Europe's navies have followed suit.
With each step of becoming more inclusive - racial integration, integrating men and women, ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell - the military has faced opposition, controversy and concern. Each time it fulfilled its mission. The results are more Americans having increased options to serve in the defense of their nation and a military that is better prepared.