The British navy has been around for half a millennium, and it's changed a lot in that time. For example, it no longer sails through the Americas and Indian subcontinent declaring everything property of the crown. But in one major way it hasn't changed: Every frontline warship has been helmed by a man.
On Monday, 40-year-old Sarah West made history, reports the BBC, when she took command of the HMS Portland, a Type 23 frigate. When Henry VIII created the Royal Navy, he could never have predicted this day. West will be leading a crew of 185 -- a crew of mostly men.
West joined the Navy 16 years ago, after graduating with an honors degree in mathematics. In that time, she's served in the Middle East, and helped evacuate thousands of Britons from Beirut in 2006, as artillery fire rained down.
She's also captained four minehunters, which comb the sea for mines, inspecting and destroying them.
"Taking command of HMS Portland is definitely the highlight of my 16 years in the Navy," West said. The Mirror also thought it was important to point out that West is single.
The first woman to command a warship in the U.S. Navy was Maureen Farren in 1998.
Women first went to sea with the Royal Navy in 1696, as nurses and laundresses, with pay equal to that of seamen. That didn't feel right to a lot folks, so women were kicked off the ships by the turn of the 19th century. But they returned a century later. Women have now been serving on Navy vessels for over two decades, but they've seen the greatest gains in just the last six months.
Forty-three-year-old Commander Sue Moore recently became the first woman to lead a squadron of minor warships, which includes 14 training vessels, and 14 Navy university units, as well as four maritime security vessels. Women were first allowed onboard submarines last November, and the 24 women set to become junior officers say it's all going smoothly. Three more women will also reportedly take command of warships by the end of this year. Women can now serve in any role in any arm of the British armed forces, except those roles whose "primary duty is to close with and kill the enemy."
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