Retro Action, April 29, 2010: Attention, Ladies -- You May Now Man the Torpedoes

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
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For lonely seamen, things are finally looking up. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Seventeen years after first allowing women to serve on its surface level ships, the Navy announces that submarines will now be open to Naval officers of both genders.

For years, America's oldest boy's club had maintained the status quo by citing the cramped quarters and strange intimacy of submarine life. But with women earning half of all science and engineering college degrees in the U.S., it became clear to recruiters that something had to give.

"This is way overdue," said Lt. Hanne Bright, one of the 340 female officers selected to transition over to a submarine unit.

But even with the writing on the wall, some male officers bristled at the thought of changing submarine culture.

"Close quarters with mixed crews produce romantic relationships," said Chief Petty Officer Doug Wilson. "Our culture has given up on sexual purity; so why do we expect people will magically become 'professional' and abstinent once they are crammed together inside a 350-foot tube?" 

"I went to submarines to get a breather from my wife and her mother. Especially her mother. Now I have to spend 60 days underwater with women? You know how long they take in the bathroom."

But for most, including the Honorable Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, the decision was simply a reflection of a changing social climate in which gender matters less than skills brought to the table.

"There are extremely capable women in the Navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force," said the judge. "Enabling them to serve in the submarine community is best for the submarine force and our Navy. We literally could not run the Navy without women today."


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