More Enlisted Women Sought For Sub Duty By 2016
By Mark D. Faram
August 19, 2015
Wanted: more enlisted women for submarine service.
A month after announcing the first 38 women picked for subs, Navy officials are renewing the call for enlisted female volunteers.
Applications are due to Navy Personnel Command by Dec. 15 and selections will be made in January.
“This round of conversions will be for the selection of the initial group of sailors to integrate the next submarine crews in 2017 in Kings Bay,” Georgia, said Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran in a naval message that called for more volunteers.
Enlisted women will begin to join the crews of the guided-missile submarine Michigan in 2016. The Florida’s integration will come in fiscal 2017.
But it will take three more years — until 2020 — for females to arrive aboard Virginia-class attack submarines. The yet-to-be-named 23rd Virginia-class boat — designated SSN-796 — will be the first built to have female crewmembers.
“Our plan has always been to proceed in a thoughtful and deliberate fashion,” said Rear Adm. Randy Crites, the head of Submarine Group 10 who's overseeing the integration task force. “I am absolutely confident that our efforts to date have been consistent with this overarching theme, and we’ll stay the course going forward."
The recruiting effort starts with finding experienced fleet female sailors to convert into the silent service. Soon, officials plan to begin start efforts to persuade female recruits to go subs.
“Our target was to have an even distribution of ratings and paygrades with females ultimately comprising 20 percent of a given crew,” Crites said in an Aug. 13 phone interview. “This cohort size and composition was informed by a Center for Naval Analysis study on integration of women in submarines.”
“To do this right, you need to have women with different levels of maturity, leadership and professional ability and we’re starting from scratch — it’s going to take time, I think as long as 10 years, before we’ll have a [female] pool of sailors from the lowest pay grades all the way up to senior, so [that] we’re self sustaining in this,” he said. “I think that’s the hardest thing but then, we’ll need to retain enough of these folks along the way.”
For now, Crites says this means there will be a steady drumbeat to recruit females from the fleet and the street, put them into the training pipeline and get them to specific crews.
Seeking the best
As more submarines are identified and modified for women, future policies will be set. The integration effort began when small cadres of female officers started reporting to Ohio-class subs in late 2011; these officers will serve as mentors for the enlisted women the force is now recruiting.
The numbers from the first round saw 113 women apply, Crites said. Seventeen chief petty officers and 91 E-6 and below got a look by the selection panel. Of those, 108 — 91 petty officers and 17 chiefs — were ruled as qualified for undersea service.
In the end, four chiefs and 34 petty officers were selected as what Crites calls "primary selectee candidates" and are first in line to integrate the Michigan’s rotating Blue and Gold crews. The remaining 70 sailors are still in the mix, Crites said. Those 57 petty officers and 13 chiefs are being called “secondary selectee candidates” and will be used as alternates if any of the initial cadre drop out of training.
“All secondary selectee candidates will be considered in this application cycle if they so desire,” Crites said.
Those applicants do not have to reapply. Their records are set for the next panel — but they can ask to opt out of the process.
“It wasn’t easy to narrow down the tremendous choices of highly skilled and talented women to fill a fixed number of billets,” Crites said. “Every single one of the sailors who applied were the best of the best within their communities.”
The standards, Crites says, are exactly the same as for male peers. The women will have to face months of rigorous training and qualifications to attain their silver dolphin pin — and aren't going to get a pass for any reason.
“The question I would ask all candidates is why they want to be a submariner," Crites said. "We are looking for motivated, technically competent, professional Sailors who are passionate about committing their absolute best toward excellence in the submarine force."
As with changing ratings in the enlisted force, it’s easier, officials say, to convert earlier in a career than later — but with the sub force looking to find females from E-1 through E-8, some exceptions are being made.
“For chief petty officers, the goal was to accept them into the submarine community with minimal additional training required,” Crites said.
For that reason, fewer ratings are open to women and in the second round, applications being sought from women in ratings like yeoman; culinary specialist; hospital corpsman; logistics specialist; and information systems technician. To apply, though, chiefs in the IT rating must already hold one of three Navy Enlisted Classifications — 2780, 2781, or 2791.
Chiefs in the personnel specialist rating are encouraged to apply — as senior admin types, they’ll be able to convert to submarine yeoman easily.
E-6 and below female have a few more options available to them, as they’ve got more time to settle into a new career path and be competitive to advance up to chief.
Junior enlisted women from any surface, aviation or other Navy rating can apply to convert to submarine ratings of sonar technician; fire control technician; machinists mate-weapons; machinists mate-auxiliary; missile technician; electronics technician-navigation; and electronics technician-communications.
Non-designated females can also strike for submarine ratings.
“We didn’t receive as many applications from undesignated Sailors in Professional Apprenticeship Career Tracks as we initially anticipated,” Crites said. “We learned that the information we were putting out about the selection process made many junior undesignated Sailors think they wouldn’t be eligible for selection.”
But one cadre of current enlisted women aren’t being considered for conversion into the submarine force — those from the surface nuclear power ratings.
"Based on the accession and retention rates of nuclear-trained female sailors, allowing female nuclear trained sailors to transfer to the submarine force would have further challenged the Navy’s ability to develop a sustainable cadre of senior female leaders within the nuclear trained surface community," Crites said.
Navy nuclear power ratings are among the service's most critical and net sailors the highest re-up bonuses, due to the high demand for their skills on the outside.
The percentage of women in three of the four surface nuclear power ratings is well below Navy averages. Only around 8 percent of the surface nuclear machinist’s mate rating are women and nuclear electronics technicians and electrician’s mates have between 12 and 13 percent women. The highest percentage of women is in the engineering lab technician rating at nearly 17 percent.
To switch from surface to a submarine nuclear rating would require some retraining. They’d be required to complete training on the specific reactors they’d encounter on the submarines, by going through prototype training.
Instead, all female submarine nuclear power sailors will come from the initial entry pipeline, Crites said. That effort is separate from the current fleet recruiting program, which is targeted at non-nuclear ratings and officials did not confirm if it was underway yet.
Current plans, officials confirmed, is to have six nuclear-trained female sailors will be reporting to each integrated submarine.
"These sailors will include one graduate from the initial nuclear training pipeline representing each nuclear enlisted classification and two junior staff instructors," he said.
These junior staff instructors serve for two years as instructors at the nuclear training command following their own initial nuclear power training, so they are slightly more senior and thus more experienced in both the occupation as well as in the Navy and will be able to help fill some of the mentorship roles being asked of the non-nuclear petty officers.
"Through this process, the Navy will begin to develop a sustainable cadre of female nuclear-trained sailors for the submarine force for the long term and continue to support a sustainable cadre of senior female leaders within the nuclear trained surface community," he said.
Non-nuclear sailors recruited from the street must attend submarine training prior to beginning the non-nuclear submarine rating training pipeline. For nuclear-trained sailors, it’s a bit different: They aren’t selected for submarines until they finish nuclear power school.
Lots of planning by submarine and surface community managers went into deciding the ratings to open to women, Crites said.
“We looked at the overall health of each rating and the impact conversions would have,” he said. This included both the ratings they would leave as well as those they would enter in the submarine force.”
Crites says the submarine community was sensitive about that from the start and care was taken not to hurt any rating health.
“There was some uncertainty as to how other communities would perceive this effort or whether there would be sufficient interest on the part of women who would eagerly request conversion into the submarine force,” he said. “In the end we had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from both the leadership ... and from the quality female sailors who are excited about joining our community."