Women Breaking Barriers in Navy, Not SEALs Yet

women navy By LOLITA BALDOR

-- It's a dramatic tale.

Elite Navy SEALs storm a walled compound in Pakistan and take out the world's most wanted terrorist.

Footnote: They were all men.

While America's last 10 years of war have propelled women into new and far more risky roles across the military, there are still some doors that are closed. Chief among those are the special operations forces.

But perhaps that door is inching open.

"As a philosophical thing, there shouldn't be anything that's closed off as a career," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. And while he is quick to note that there is a ban on moving women into combat and infantry jobs, Mabus said more and more women are working with special operations forces in support roles. And he did not rule out the idea that a qualified woman could eventually become an elite commando.

Still, Mabus cautioned that it would take time. "We're going to have to take some careful, well-thought-out steps in that direction," he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed a similar view late last year, telling North Carolina ROTC students that he believes women will eventually be allowed to serve in special operations jobs. At some point, he said, "there will be a careful step in that direction."

One of those steps is the Navy's recent decision to allow women to serve on submarines. Of the 18 women selected for the program, eight will report to their submarines in November to serve as supply corps officers. Others will report to subs next summer.

The first eight -- all are newly commissioned ensigns -- will be divided among four ballistic missile submarines, the USS Wyoming, USS Georgia, USS Maine and the USS Ohio. And there will be a senior female officer -- likely a lieutenant -- on each of the subs to serve as a mentor and work with the ensigns to help with the transition.

"We are making a concerted effort to not only look at retaining women, but at bringing more women into the Navy," said Lt. Cmdr. Jean Marie Sullivan, chief of the naval personnel's office of women's policy.

With the addition of those women to the subs, the only Navy jobs still closed to female officers are with the SEALs.

By announcing the subs and putting a senior female officer on board with the two ensigns, the Navy says it is working to ensure a smooth transition that will gradually put women on attack subs. And, as more female officers merge into the ranks, they will pave the way for the eventual inclusion of enlisted women.

Currently, however, the cramped quarters on subs don't provide adequate berthing for enlisted women, and it would be costly to make the necessary modifications.

Overall, the Air Force has the highest percentage of women in its ranks, with a bit more than 19 percent. The Navy is close behind, with nearly 17 percent women, followed by the Army with 13 percent and the Marines with less than 7 percent.

On Friday, women made up almost 21 percent of the 2011 graduation class of sailors at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and more than 17 percent of the Marines.

Across the services, just a handful of jobs are closed to women, and those are mainly combat, infantry, artillery, pararescue, tank and special operations forces.

The growth in the number of women in the military, and their increasing roles in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, may be tearing down slowly the remaining walls that bar them from serving in front line combat.

Earlier this year, a military advisory panel recommended that the final areas of discrimination be dismantled, bucking concerns that women lack the strength and stamina to fulfill those grueling jobs, or that the American public will balk at seeing large numbers of women coming home in body bags.

Already more than 255,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and nearly 150 have been killed in those wars.

And while women may not be SEALs, or members of the Army's prestigious Delta Force, they are increasingly serving with special operations teams in supporting jobs such as intelligence analysts, legal specialists, builders and administrative assistants.

So, while the SEALs who stormed Osama bin Laden's compound early this month were all men, women have been deploying to the warfront with Naval Special Warfare Command squadrons for several years. Since 2007, 10 to 15 women have deployed with each NSW squadron, and more than 400 female sailors serve with the Navy's special operations forces in supporting jobs.

That program temporarily assigns women to units that are close to the warfront, but it precludes them from doing combat missions. So far, said Sullivan, it has been very successful.

"One of the things we are seeing is that as women move up and get more and more responsibilities, our retention rates for junior officers and junior enlisted are going up as well," Mabus said.

Next: Companies Hiring

Stories from FINS Finance

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

bring the women on they to be taugh a lesson.

June 02 2011 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sadly only very few female could (or can) pick up a 240 lb guy hold him as a child, and walk with him about a mile (I did). BUT.... you can be strong, and dedicated, hard worker, and fearless...and still.....
Your boobs, your menstrual period, will pull you back. All the heavy duty gears designed for flat chested muscular upper body. Some times the guys in combat can not take a shower for days or week(s). In that case any female in that group have to take some medication to delay a menstrual cycle. As I said I'm truly sad about the fact that some of this jobs just not for us girls. Physical strings just one "thing" you will need much more. You can have balls (in your head) and be one of them:) BUT again we need a male body to do that job, so unfair but is true.

June 01 2011 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OK, you don't have to be 6'-4" and 220 lbs to pull a trigger BUT there is a lot more to speicial forces than trigger pulling.
We men are raised to take care of our women so to see a Female take a hit [ got shot or wounded ] plays a big head trip to a Male . Do we leave her and get her on the way back , leave a man or two with her or what . Women give birth , they are care takers of our children, they are to be protected NOT put in harms way. Many things to think about when a Female is working next to you.

I worked with women as a Iron Worker and they did ok for about 3 to 5 years then fell to the way side as their bodies are not built to handle 30 years of that abuse. Don't bring up Child birth as a tool to argue back as Men can NOT give birth.

Why can't women just be lovable , soft , women and be happy .

June 01 2011 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lesrob60's comment

lesrob60: Please don't take this wrong, I really am not trying to put down men. Real men that know how to treat women are virtually non-existent. I would *love* a man that wouldn't let me lift anything heavy or expect me to work "like a man" alongside of him. I am 4'11" and my husband gets pissed if I'm not outside pushing a wheel barrow with mulch that I've shoveled from a trailer, doing virtually all of the yard maintenence myself, etc. (you get the picture)............Until a mass layoff 10 years ago, I worked in an auto parts distribution center, where at times I was lifting half of my body weight over my head on tip-toe. I now have back problems, sciatica, and fibromyalgia as a result. It takes at least an hour for me to be able to get moving in the morning, and I am in constant pain 24/7 (but I have a high pain tolerance). He still expects me to do a lot of physical labor outside. My father would *never* allow my mother to do any hard physical labor, he considered it shameful as a man. Now, I'm not saying this about *all* men today, but for the most part, the men that I see today are lazy. They don't want women/a wife, they want a husband with benefits. I *like* being treated as feminine.........I definitely look the part, so I don't understand being expected to be a workhorse. I've never been afraid of hard work, but *I* know that my frame isn't built for heavy manual labor. I guess he won't get it until I'm in a wheelchair....even then, he'd probably expect me to wheel everything to him on my lap...... Honestly? I would **love*** to have the life that June Cleaver did. Just worry about maintaining the inside and taking care of the family's needs and have the husband worry about the outside. IMO, it's how it *should* be.

June 01 2011 at 5:13 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I believe women should have the opportunity to enter SEAL training, I failed and I was in great shape. Let them try most if not all will fail. Not many ladies will want that kind of torture. G.I. Jane was bogus.

June 01 2011 at 1:31 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Having females fighting in battles is STUPID!

June 01 2011 at 1:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

What is forgotten here,is that there are other units within the ranks of the army,marines,and even the airforce that have similiar training.

June 01 2011 at 12:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Most women are not as strong as a man and would in most combat situations be at a distinct disadvantage but I know some who can really scrap but most would have no chance in a physical fight with a skilled man combat soldier, most not all though. But when it comes time to carry out a wounded 220 lb fellow soldier out of harms way I'de much prefer a buffed out male soldier. I could see women in certain sniper role parts though Combat is brutal business and in general better suited for man work...

June 01 2011 at 12:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

If a female can handle the training to be a SEAL, then fine. If they have to lower the standards to allow women to pass then no way. It's really not that hard now is it?

June 01 2011 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to apollospike's comment

To me, the politics of this discussion clearly demonstrates those for women being in the US Navy SEALs have no clue what a US Navy SEAL is or what all he has to be able to do. This is a prime example of how the standards must be lowered to make a political statement and has NOTHING to do with national security.

June 02 2011 at 2:19 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

To be a Seal you've gotta have BALLS.

June 01 2011 at 12:09 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Writer of this article should check the facts about women in Combat and the types of units. During my years in the army we had women in our units and on front lines during Desert Storm, We were a Field Artillery unit in an Armored Division. many of times the action was right next to us or right in front. Saw many of the leadership (men) in foxholes. When the women soldiers carried on and did their jobs. Open up the so called specialized groups to all sexes, and it's simple, you wash out , you washout... The men fail in the training too.

June 01 2011 at 11:50 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web