Female Sub School Grads Say They Fit Right In
By Jennifer McDermott
The Day
July 9, 2011
First class with women graduates amid sense of business as usual
Kristin Lyles says she is treated no differently from the men learning to serve on a submarine even though she is one of the first women to do so.
Every now and then, she said, someone will talk about men serving on submarines and have to correct themselves. But that's it.
"It's like they've been doing this the whole time. I really haven't seen that we're any different than the guys or that they're doing anything different for us," she said. "I think that was the goal. We're not singled out in any way, and I haven't felt that way at all."
Lyles, an ensign in the Navy, and seven other women graduated from the 10-week officer basic course at the Naval Submarine School in Groton Friday, along with 66 men. But the fact that women were graduating from the course for the first time was not mentioned at the 45-minute ceremony, according to those who attended.
The Submarine Force denied repeated requests by The Day to cover the graduation. Lt. Cmdr. Kyung Choi, spokesman for the commander of the Submarine Force in Virginia, said media were not allowed to go to the graduation because they did not want the women to stand out or be considered separately from the rest of the group, or to "sensationalize" the event. Also the women are still in training, he said.
Rear Adm. Michael E. McLaughlin, commander of Submarine Group Two, was the guest speaker. During brief remarks he congratulated the class and praised the graduates for their accomplishments.
Beth Hudson, 23, an ensign who also graduated Friday, said she appreciated that the women in the class were not singled out.
"We're just trying to integrate as best as possible," said Hudson, 23, of Plymouth, Mass. "And if no one in the community is drawing attention to it, then it's easier."
Lyles, 23, of Fairfax Station, Va., said it felt good to have "one more check in the box" on her way to getting to serve on a submarine.
"We're still in training so we're here to learn as much as we can before we go to our boats," she said. "I don't feel any historic feeling every day when I go into work, I'm just doing what I need to do and learning everything I can. Maybe it will be different when I get assigned to a submarine, but right now I'm still going to school."
The training consists of six months of Nuclear Power School, six months of Naval Nuclear Prototype Training and the officer course.
Lyles, Hudson and the rest of the women who graduated from the officer course Friday will go to prototype training in Ballston Spa, N.Y., in late August. Ten women who are in the prototype training phase now will arrive in Groton in September for the officer course.
Hudson said her "biggest relief" was discovering that so far, her gender is a "non-issue" in the submarine community.
"They are very much treating us as part of a group of intellectuals going through the same program," she said. "That level of professionalism, that level of rising above any media attention or negative attention made me a lot more comfortable."
The women could begin reporting to their submarines as early as November. Lyles said she has not yet been told which submarine she will serve on, but that she's "very, very excited" to do what she joined the Navy to do. Hudson echoed that sentiment, saying she was ready to do what she has been preparing for.
The Navy officially lifted its ban last year and began preparing to bring female officers aboard ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines - the USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) and USS Georgia (SSGN 729), both in Kings Bay, Ga., and the USS Maine (SSBN 741), and USS Ohio (SSGN 726), both in Bangor, Wash.
Several of the women, including Lyles and Hudson, were chosen from the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy last year. Lyles said she didn't quite know what to expect, but the training so far has convinced her that she made the right decision.
"Going through power school and here, I've been really interested in everything we're doing and learning," she said. "It's very engaging and it makes me want to learn more. And I think that's ideal."