Thursday, February 25, 2016

Submarines no longer uncharted territory for Navy's enlisted women

Elizabeth Morgan, Clear Water Tribune
24 February 2016

Petty Officer Second Class Sara Brookshier received a warm welcome and homecoming from the veterans at Harold Kinne Post #3296 last Monday evening, Feb. 15. If the name is familiar, but you're having difficulties placing her, she is the daughter of Boyd and Millie Brookshier of Orofino, and her photo can be seen Monday through Friday on the refrigerator of the Dog House on Main St.
Honor, Courage, and Commitment
Standing five foot seven, Petty Officer Brookshier is a force to be reckoned with, and her parents couldn't be more proud. In fact, their daughter has been selected to join the Navy's Submarine Forces as one of the first 30 non-commissioned officers accepted. Her story is an amazing
example of honor, courage, and commitment, long before she realized that they were the Navy's core values.
Sara joined the Navy League Cadet program in Tri-Cities, WA, at the tender young age of 11. The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, or USNSCC, is comprised of two programs. The Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC) program is for youth ages 13 through 17. The junior program - the Navy League Cadet Corps (NLCC) - is for those between the ages of 11 through 13.
The programs strive to develop an interest and ability in seamanship and seagoing skills, instill virtues of good citizenship and strong moral principles, demonstrate the value of an alcohol-free, drug-free and gang-free lifestyle and offer exposure to a variety of career paths through hands-on training with our nation's armed services
The program offered a simplified version of basic training to include the proper attention to military uniform, marching, facing movements and history. Advancing to the Sea Cadets at 13, Sara attended "boot camp" at Fort Lewis, WA. All through high school, she rose through the ranks as leading Petty Officer in her group as she graduated from high school.
After looking at all of the branches of military service Sara joined the Navy. She entered as an E-3 vs. an E-1, for her experience and received a substantial raise in pay when compared to those who were just beginning their service in the Navy. Sara still attended the Navy's basic training camp, but said it was really pretty simple and much less stressful for her due to her experience as a cadet.
"The Navy was the best fit for me," she explained, for the job training and the opportunities they offered. "When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew I didn't want to be stuck in a college classroom, so I figured I'd serve for four years giving myself time to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to see the world and travel. I'd get my G.I. Bill to go to college, get out and go."
Fallon, Nevada
"My first assignment was at the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada, which is typically not the location one may envision with the Navy," Sara laughs. "I worked as an aircraft mechanic and was with a command which served as support for TOPGUN, though not quite as dramatic as the movie," she assures me.
While there, Sara was sent on two week detachments to Key West, FL, Beaufort, SC, and to both Lemoore and China Lake, in CA.
Following her assignment in Nevada, Sara received three months of training in Camp Shelby, MS, after volunteering to serve in Afghanistan in 2009.
A long way from home
Afghanistan was certainly an experience to remember. As a guard for the prison, she certainly faced the most challenging moments of her career, both physically and mentally.
"Sleeping in a war zone and working in a prison can be extremely stressful. We were trained for a little bit of everything," she remembers. "We learned about body armor and traveling in a convoy."
As a female, Sara managed to utilize her expertise in driving a manual transmission, and being able to back up using only the mirrors. "It saved me from having to fly, which I didn't care for," she admits, "especially the combat landings, so I drove a lot. We were even OC (Oleoresin Capsicum, or more commonly known as pepper) sprayed, which was definitely one of the worst experiences I've ever had."
Being sprayed is a type of prerequisite to being adequately certified to use the spray as a measure of non-lethal force. Though many people react differently to the spray, it is quite debilitative and demands a certain level of respect. Experiencing the spray first hand helps those who have it to know when to use it appropriately.
"One of the best experiences there, was shooting a .50 caliber," she grins. "It's a big gun for a small person."
"We were a very close-knit unit there," said Sara. "When we got off work, we went to the gym or on Thursdays, gathered to watch the new movie we received and on Fridays, to what we called a family dinner."
Sara's parents remember the difficult days and months of waiting for her return or even to call home. "It seemed like everything was classified," said Millie. "What do you talk about?"
Fortunately, Sara was pulled from her assignment in Afghanistan early and everyone's prayers were answered when she arrived home safely.
Another assignment and "vertical replenishment"
Her four years were almost up, and then there were indications that orders for Guam rested on the horizon. So Sara re-enlisted, and spent the next three years at a Navy helicopter squadron on Anderson Air Force Base in Guam.
Sara deployed on a supply ship responding to carrier groups requesting supplies, "anything from ice cream to fuel," she shares. Then the ship would meet them for what was formally known as "vertical replenishment." While on that deployment Sara was able to visit several locations in Japan and Australia.
Time for a change
She had served between six and seven years when she was a little "burned out" with her job. Her Chief suggested she try something new. "Try recruiting," he suggested, and so she re-enlisted a third time to become a recruiter. After receiving more training in Florida, she wastransferred to Morgantown, West Virginia, where she currently resides.
A bigger challenge
At the beginning of 2015, Sara learned that the submarine force, which had only previously been opened to female officers as of 2011, were now being extended to enlisted women as well, and she applied.
The women were chosen based on their performance in their current rating, their desired submarine rating assignment, and the overall needs of the Navy for rating community health, according to the statement, along with performance evaluations, warfare qualifications, commanding officer endorsements, sea service time, physical readiness testing, and similarity of current rating to desired submarine rating.
Breaking barriers in the Submarine Force
In June of 2015 Sara Brookshier was named one of the first 30 female sailors of the highest caliber to be selected. These young women have earned the opportunity to make history and be among the first to join the Submarine Service.
The women who pass their medical screening will be sent to a tailored training pipeline, to include Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Groton, CT, and technical training at "A" schools and "C" schools before reporting to Bangor, WA.
The Navy received an overwhelming response from women currently serving across the fleet in a variety of concentration areas, from the surface fleet, to our aviation community, to Seabees, to Sailors in the Fleet Reserve.
The best of the best
"It wasn't easy to select from the large number of highly skilled and talented women who applied to fill a fixed number of billets, as every single one of the Sailors who applied were the best of the best at what they have done during their naval careers," stated Rear Admiral Chas Richard, Commander of the Submarine Group Ten and the Enlisted Women in Submarines Task Force.
"We couldn't be more pleased with the amount of interest shown by enlisted women in wanting the opportunity to serve in the undersea warfare domain," claimed Rear Adm. Richard. "It's an exciting time in the submarine force, as we continue to move forward in shaping the future of our force, drawing from the best pool of talent possible."
Everybody brings something different
When asked about the gender issues of serving in the military, particularly in non-traditional occupations, and most certainly to be addressed in her new endeavor to begin this summer on a submarine, she tells me, "There have been other females who have broken those barriers before me. Everybody brings with them something different. "If you are female and you come in to work, there are no issues. As an aircraft mechanic, I may not be able to lift down a 200 pound component, but my tiny little arm fits into holes to reach screws others can't. I tell my new girls, 'I don't care that you're a girl; you may not be able to lift that toolbox, but there's the dolly over there, make it work.'"
"I'm sure there will be a few small kinks to work out on the sub," admits Sara. "It's something new and they're not used to females being in their domain, but once we get there and get the kinks worked out, I suspect it will all work out just fine." Similar to women serving in combat, enlisted women serving on a submarine cuts through one of the military's few remaining gender barriers.
Female officers have been on submarines now for several years, but always have had their own quarters. And here is where it becomes a real issue.
Submarines are extremely limited in the amount of space available, and to have enlisted women on board requires making space for sleeping and bathing facilities. But it can be done. "They're retrofitting quarters for us," Sara says proudly.
"There will still be issues, there always been issues in all occupations, but if one works hard and pulls their own weight, it's all that matters," reasons Sara.
As a recruiter Sara gets to see the front of it. Navy SEAL and SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant Crew) has recently been opened to females.
"As a recruiter," she says, "I get to hear about the new challenge of finding females who want to step into these communities. They're still working out the finer details. Honestly, if there's a girl who can make it in the SEALs I say good on you, do it, go with them."
It will be quite interesting to see the only three jobs that were closed to women be challenged; submarines, SEALs, and SWCC.
I wasn't scared
Sara knows firsthand that women are advancing. "We've busted down the door for subs, and we will now have females in combat, it's just about working out the kinks."
"My parents have raised me to work hard. Spending time at the rodeo grounds in Pendleton, it was all guys. I was hired on to help Dad my final summer before basic," she adds, "I didn't play the good old boys club, and it definitely helped me coming into the Navy. I wasn't scared. I have work to do. Teach me, let's get this done and let's go home."

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