Women on submarines


New Debate on Submarine Duty for Women
New York Times, 1999-11-15


It [a recommendation by DACOWITS]
has highlighted a significant rift between
the Navy’s civilian leadership,
including Richard Danzig, the secretary of the Navy,
and some of its senior officers.

In a speech to the Naval Submarine League last summer,
Mr. Danzig signaled support for integrating the submarine fleet,
but in the controversy over his remarks he retreated.
He warned in the speech that the “submarine community” --
a tightly knit cadre of crew members and officers --
risked becoming dangerously out of touch with society
if it did not adapt to include women, as well as more minority submariners.

“The most Narcissus-like thing
about creating something in your own image,
about being in love with your own image,” he said,
“is the continued and continuous existence of this segment of the Navy
a white male preserve.”

But here in Norfolk, home port for the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet
and 12 of its 57 nuclear-powered attack submarines,
the “white male preserve” has been largely unmoved by Mr. Danzig’s concerns
and the committee’s recommendations.
To them, the experience of spending weeks submerged
in tense, claustrophobic conditions,
with little space and no privacy,
makes the introduction of women virtually unthinkable.

“I only know one way, the way I was brought up,” said Cmdr. James G. Foggo 3rd,
the commanding officer of the attack submarine Oklahoma City.
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and it works well.”

Mr. Danzig’s aides insist that
he merely hoped to start a debate with his remarks last summer,
not impose a change,
but no sooner had he delivered the speech
than the Navy’s top admiral, Jay L. Johnson, flatly rejected the idea.
“For us, for me as chief of naval operations, I do not intend to change,”
he said.


“In addition to personnel stress inherent in all combat vessels,
submarine crews must endure long periods of submerged operations,
unrelenting crowding, lack of privacy,
infrequent communications with family and the outside world,
no ability even to go topside for fresh air and a view,”
a 1995 assessment by the Navy said.
That report also cited a higher incidence of health problems with women.

Others dismiss those concerns.
“It is ludicrous to say the living conditions and psychological conditions
have more of an impact on women than on men,”
said Ms. Wamsley, the deputy chief of police in Commerce City, Colo.

But even proponents concede that
submarines pose unique challenges for integration,
all of which were evident aboard the Oklahoma City,
whose crew was preparing to head to sea on Monday.

At 360 feet long, tip to tip, the submarine seemed impossibly crowded,
even without its full crew.
The Los Angeles class of submarines was built in the 1980’s for a crew of 108;
with additions like Tomahawk cruise missiles that require additional personnel,
the Oklahoma City now has 145.

Passageways are so narrow that crew members have to turn sideways
to pass one another, chest to chest.
The enlisted men share two bathrooms
and sleep stacked three deep
in racks small enough to make turning over problematic.

When at sea, the lowest-ranking crew members have to share bunks,
sleeping in shifts.
To minimize that unpopular practice,
the submarine has installed mattresses in its torpedo room.
Only the commander and executive officer have private rooms,
each no bigger than a closet.

“The thing about submarines is space is a commodity,”
Commander Foggo said, sitting in the officers’ ward room,
which serves as dining hall, conference room, chapel
and, in case of medical emergencies, operating room.

Capt. Michael C. Tracy, chief of staff for the Atlantic fleet,
said the constraints complicated the integration of women.
Making submarines bigger would limit their speed and maneuverability,
he said.
Squeezing in additional bunks would mean losing something else, like weapons.


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