Men have been called to war for centuries, but in 1917 women answered the call too; they served in World War I as nurses, both stateside and overseas. Thirty-one years later, women were allowed to join the Navy with men as Sailors instead of nurses. After fighting for equal opportunity for decades, women now have the option to join any job in the Navy as long as they are qualified, including serving on submarines and warships and entering combat zones.
Female Sailors have overcome many challenges to gain equality and accomplish their goals in the Navy.
In late spring of 2015, strides were made for women when the Enlisted Women in Submarines Initiative started taking applications from female Sailors of all ratings and communities to go on an Ohio-class submarine in 2016.
Interior Communications Electrician Specialist 2nd Class Jennifer Cavazos, assigned to USS Nimitz’ (CVN 68) Combat Systems Department, applied to be on a submarine even though she had only one year left on her contract.
“It was a male Navy before,” said Cavazos. “I thought sometimes that a woman might not be able to do a guy’s job. I would like to take on that challenge and do it to the best of my abilities.”
Not only are women allowed on submarines, but also starting in 2017, female Sailors will begin wearing the traditional ‘cracker jacks’ in a decision brought forth to unify Sailors.
“I’m really excited about changing dress blues,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Tammy Porter, of Nimitz’ Air Department. “The male uniforms are easily identifiable as Sailors and female uniforms aren’t. So, I’m excited to wear that dress blue uniform and when I walk around have people look at me and say, ‘ That’s a Sailor’ instead of looking at me as a woman.”
At the end of 2015, the rest of the jobs in the Navy took after the Enlisted Women in Submarines Initiative and were made available to women who met the qualifications; they can even enter combat roles that were previously off limits.
“When I was little, I always wanted to be a Navy SEAL, and then I grew up and realized that the job wasn’t open to women,” said Porter. “Now that it’s open to women I can strive to become a SEAL, or maybe even Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) if I wanted. The options are great, and as long as I work for it, I know I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Having females serving along male counterparts is essential in today’s Navy. More than 59,000 female Sailors are serving on active duty and more than 9,000 serve in the Naval Reserves.
“I’m ecstatic every morning when I get to put my uniform on and come to work,” said Logistics Specialist Seaman Caldonia McGee, of Nimitz’ Supply Department. “I feel so empowered to serve. I get to be equal to my male counter parts and show them that I can do what they can do. I love how female Sailors are setting an example for younger women and opening doors not only for themselves, but for all the female Sailors coming after them.”
Female Sailors in the Navy have fought to have the same opportunities for advancement and leadership roles as their male shipmates.
“I’ve worked really hard to get where I am so far,” said Personnel Specialist 1st Class Ashley Johnson, Nimitz’ Personnel leading petty officer. “It’s hard when people look at you like you’re just a woman, but I’m more than that. I’m not just a woman; I’m a Sailor. I know that I can make a difference for women who want to join later.”
Almost 100 years have passed since women joined the Navy and it seems every day another opportunity arises.
After fighting for equality, not only in the civilian world, but in the military as well, men and women are being treated as equals. Not only are men and women serving side by side, they are getting paid the same, have the same advancement opportunities and women are doing the same dangerous jobs that were once only open to men. Day by day, the options for women in the military become greater, and they are one step closer to being the same as their male counter parts.
Story by MCSA Liana Nichols