KINGS BAY NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE, Ga. — The first US women allowed to serve aboard submarines will be reporting for duty by 2012, the Navy said yesterday as the military ordered an end to one of its few remaining gender barriers.
The cramped quarters and scant privacy aboard submarines, combined with long tours of up to 90 days at sea, kept them off-limits to female sailors for 16 years after the Navy began allowing women to serve on all its surface ships in 1994.
There were some protests after the military began formulating a plan last fall. But it received no objections from Congress after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates notified lawmakers in mid-February that the Navy intended to lift the ban. The deadline for Congress to intervene passed Wednesday.
“We’re going to look back on this four or five years from now, shrug our shoulders, and say, ‘What was everybody worrying about?’ ’’ said Rear Admiral Barry Bruner, who led the Navy’s task force on integrating women onto submarines.
The first group of women will consist entirely of officers assigned to guided-missile attack submarines and ballistic-missile submarines, which have the most living space in the Navy’s fleet.
Limiting women to officer slots lets the Navy, for a time at least, sidestep the more vexing and cost-prohibitive problem of modifying subs to have separate bunks and bathrooms for enlisted men and women.