Tim Prudente, Annapolis Capital Gazette
28 September 2015
Kayla Barron stepped aboard the USS Maine two years ago with its crew of about five women – and 160 men. She was undaunted.
"It was business as usual," said Barron, now a Navy lieutenant and member of the Naval Academy's first class of women to serve on submarines, the Class of 2010.
"If women can meet the standards," she said, "they should be allowed to serve in whatever capacity they choose."
Navy officials are considering opening the elite SEALs unit to women. And the Naval Academy superintendent said Monday he's confident female midshipmen would succeed in SEALs training, if permitted.
"We're going to follow policy," said the superintendent, Vice Adm. Walter "Ted" Carter Jr. "Should that open up to women, I have no doubt that our women will do very well in that program."
The Naval Academy's male graduates maintain a 92 percent success rate in becoming SEALs, Carter said. Some 80 percent of outside candidates fail the grueling training, he said.
"We will make sure we get the best and the brightest," Carter said.
Last week, the commander of the Navy's special warfare units recommended the SEALs and combat crew jobs be open to women. Rear Adm. Brian Losey noted there are "no insurmountable obstacles" to opening the jobs to women, but he warned there are "foreseeable impacts" to integrating them into ground combat.
The U.S. military services are expected soon to send their final recommendations on opening more positions to women to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
The academy sends between 30 and 35 men to SEALs training each year, Carter said. But more than 100
midshipmen usually apply for that unit. This year, the academy has 36 slots.
"Why should anyone be restricted?" said Elizabeth Rowe, a retired Navy commander and member of the academy's Class of 1980, the first class with women. "To me it defeats logic. Can you physiologically manage whatever the job is? And if you can manage, why should you not have the opportunity to do it?"
Rowe graduated from the academy and served three years aboard a Navy destroyer tender, the USS Samuel Gompers. She spent the rest of her career on shore and retired south of Williamsburg, Virginia in 2010.
Her class entered the academy with 81 women and graduated with 55, she said. Female officers and enlisted sailors were already serving aboard the Samuel Gompers when she arrived.
"They accepted us professionally," she said. "My experience on the ship as a woman was much better than my experience at the Naval Academy."
Women now make up about 27 percent of the academy, the highest in school history. Female applications for next year are already 15 percent higher than this time last year, Carter said.
Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins, a 2008 academy graduate, broke another gender barrier when she became in March the first women to fly with the Navy's elite Blue Angels.
Similarly, the first two female soldiers completed the Army's rigorous Ranger School last month. The Army opened Ranger School to women for the first time this year. No women, however, are eligible for the elite regiment, though officials say it's among the units likely to open eventually to women.
The academy superintendent, Carter, said he believes athletic success by women's teams, together with the school's academics, prepare midshipmen for difficult work.
"I view athletics as at least a leading indicator of what it takes to go into these high-performing, tough mission sets," Carter said. "But it's the time management as well as the tough academic curriculum that we have here that I think makes our midshipmen more resilient."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Women's firsts in the Navy and Marine Corps
1862: Sisters of the Holy Cross served aboard the USS Red Rover, the Navy's first hospital ship.
1917: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels approved enlisting women on March 17, weeks before the U.S. entered World War I.
1918: Some 35,000 women served in the armed forces during World War I.
1943: Capt. Anne Lentz became the first woman officer in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.
1950: For the first time in history, Marine Corps Women Reserves were mobilized for the Korean War reaching a peak strength of 2,787.
1953: Secretary of Defense George Marshall established a committee on women in the service because of low recruiting numbers.
1954: More than 1,000 women served on duty in Korea during the Korean War.
1961: Lt. Charlene Suneson reported for duty on board USS General Mann and became the first line woman to have shipboard duty. Berta Peters Billeb became the first female Marine promoted to Sergeant Major.
1970: Capt. Alma G. Ellis became the first woman line officer assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy as director of the academy museum.
1972: Lt. Cmdr. Georgia Clark became the first female naval officer faculty member at the academy.
1972: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt allowed women to be assigned to noncombatant surface ships.
1973: The first coed class graduated from Navy Officer Candidate School. Rae Jean B. Goodman was appointed as the first Naval Academy female civilian faculty member. The first four women were chosen for flight training at Pensacola. Some 7,500 women served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
1974: Lt. Barbara Allen became the first Navy woman pilot to earn her wings.
1976: Congress mandated that women be admitted to the service academies including the Naval Academy. Some 81 women took the oath in July.
1978: Brig. Gen. Margaret Brewer became the first Marine Corps flag officer.
1980: The first class of 54 women graduated from the Naval Academy, 51 percent of whom became career officers.
1981: The first enlisted women were assigned as surface warfare specialists.
1990: Rear Adm. Marsha Evans was the first woman to command a naval station, Treasure Island. Lt. Cmdr. Darlene Iskra was the first Navy woman to command a ship, the USS Opportune. Cmdr. Rosemary Mariner became the first woman assigned to command an aviation squadron.
1991: Some 41,000 women served overseas during Desert Storm.
1992: Navy strengthened its zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. Midshipman Julianne Gallina became the first woman brigade commander at the Naval Academy.
1993: Congress repealed the law preventing women from serving on combat ships.
1995: Cmdr. Wendy Lawrence became the first Navy woman in space aboard space shuttle Endeavor.
1996: Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter became the first Marine Corps female officer to wear three stars and only the second woman in history of the armed services to do so.
2004: Mary DeCredico was appointed the first female vice academic dean at the Naval Academy.
2006: Capt. Margaret Klein became the first female commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy.
2010: Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus approved women to be assigned to Ohio class submarines. Rear Adm. Michelle Howard is the first female Naval Academy graduate to achieve flag rank. She is also the first woman to serve as commander.
2015: Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins becomes the first women to fly with the Navy's elite Blue Angels.