Women have been involved in war efforts long before they were officially allowed to serve in the military. Dating back to the Revolutionary War there are countless Female Patriots who did everything from delivering water to wounded soldiers on the battlefront, to disguising themselves as men to be able to fight on the front lines. The issue over how females could integrate with males in the military has always been controversial and remains to this day. Obstacles such as housing and accommodations and what roles and privileges should be given to women are battles that are slowly being overcome.
Following the women’s suffrage movement that gave way to the 19th Amendment, the women’s rights movement continued to pave the way for women who wanted to enter the workforce, even the military. By 1945 at the end of World War II, women could finally enlist in any branch, and following that, get paid the same as the male next to her and also work in nearly any rate other than those of combatant positions. Without being discharged because she was pregnant or prohibited from advancing to a certain pay grade as an officer, it became significantly easier for a woman to advance in the Navy.
Eventually we saw the first women Sailor to become an astronaut for NASA, the first female Sailor to command a ship, and the first female to earn her wings as a pilot. Today, the fight toward reaching equal opportunity for women in the Navy doesn’t end there, but continues. Women are not only allowed on ships now, but on submarines, too.
Prior to 2010, the talk of integrating females into the male-only crews of the submarine community seemed to be just a rumor. Trial periods letting the first female officers, then female enlisted Sailors would begin to turn rumor into reality.
Starting this past spring, the Enlisted Women in Submarine Initiative started taking applications from female Sailors from all communities and ratings. Potential candidates would be placed on Ohio-class submarines by 2016.
Interior Communications Electrician 2nd Class Jennifer Cavazos aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) had only one year left on her contract when the Navy finally announced this. She knew she could not turn down the opportunity to apply, and didn’t hesitate before submitting her package.
“I decided to give it a try,” she said. “It would be life changing, seeing and experiencing what it’s like to be on a sub versus on a ship. Not many people get that chance.”
Waiting out the 90-day window for the chance of being picked up in replacement of someone is a difficult process for Cavazos to endure. Without taking someone else’s place, she won’t be able to go on USS Michigan (SSBN 727) in 2016. Nevertheless, she feels she’s made part of history already with the first trial group of enlisted females.
“Many places in the military there is that common perception that males sometimes think, that a females might not be able to do a male’s job,” said Cavazos. “As women, we have to take them up on those challenges and prove them wrong.”
Cavazos is attracted to what she believes a submarine’s environment is like and how it might differ from a surface ship.
“There’s no stigma about females down below, that I know of,” she said. “On a sub, everyone has to depend on each other, no matter what. If there is a flood, you’ll need to know how to stop it; you can’t just stand on the sidelines. It’s every single body being used.”
Understanding that an immediate reaction to females might cause an initial stir in the submarine community, Cavazos said she foresees that being smoothed out in time.
“The Navy is changing,” Cavazos said. “It’s a balancing act they’re trying to accomplish by allowing females onto subs. It’s going to come as a shock all at once. It’s a huge change. Some people do well with change, and others don’t.”
As part of the first trial group of female enlisted Sailors to be integrated onto submarines, Cavazos and three other Nimitz’ alternates hold onto their dreams to be one of the first women to deploy with a submarine.
This year, as the Navy recognizes Women’s Equality Day, female Sailors onboard Nimitz and beyond have another notch to add to their belts in the push for equality. While only the future can tell what other obstacles are next, it is obvious the Navy is committed to continuing to level the playing field for all Sailors.
Story by MC3 Lauren Jennings