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Making Waves: Women in the U.S. Navy—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

08 March 2021

From Petty Officer 2nd Class Tristan Lotz, Subase New London

Women in today’s U.S. Navy proudly serve alongside their male counterparts, with great opportunity ahead of them and a wake of history and perseverance behind them.

GROTON, Conn. – Women in today’s U.S. Navy proudly serve alongside their male counterparts, with great opportunity ahead of them and a wake of history and perseverance behind them.

Women’s naval history officially starts in 1908 with the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps. A contract nurse from the Spanish-American War named Esther Voorhees Hasson was appointed superintendent. Hasson was joined by 19 other women who together formed the “Sacred Twenty.” These women were the first to officially serve in the United States Navy.

The 20th century saw women make great strides in naval service. Manning issues in both World Wars compelled the Navy to open enlistment to women. The most famous example of this was the Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Services (WAVES), authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Public Law 689. The goal of the WAVES was to have women serving in shore positions so as to free up male service members for deployment in Europe or the Pacific.

Many women, however, would ultimately serve on the front during the war. Some were even held as prisoners of war in the Pacific theater and honored for their heroism. It would be these deeds that began to change the views of the brass regarding women in uniform.

“I think women in the Navy have definitely contributed greatly to our armed forces as a whole,” said Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Faron Carhee, senior enlisted advisor of Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London Port Operations Department. “I personally tend to not want the recognition for being a woman, but as a Sailor. I am just as capable as the next individual, regardless of gender. A woman can do whatever a man can do, it’s the effort and the drive, the motivation that counts.”

The post-war years saw barriers to women in the military fall one by one like dominoes. Women began to serve aboard ships and became command leaders in their own right. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, beloved by the ranks for his populist reforms to the fleet and commended by President Bill Clinton as the “conscience of the Navy,” issued Z-Gram 116 on August 7, 1972 to further expand opportunities for women. The 1970s and 80s would see women enter the aviation field and begin serving in regular capacities aboard auxiliary ships such as oilers and tenders. Gulf War fighter pilot Capt. Rosemary Mariner would say of gender in combat: “A machine gun is a great equalizer.”

As the 21st century progresses, so does technology and war fighting. Gender has become less of an issue as the ability to operate complex equipment has become even more important. In 2010, the Department of the Navy announced that women would be authorized to serve aboard submarines. Ballistic-missile (SSBN) and guided-missile (SSGN) class submarines were the first to have female Sailors among their crews. In 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ash Carter opened all combat jobs to women.

Now, women serve in virtually all ratings and capacities, bringing that much more talent and ability to America’s Navy; and today, serving daughters look to their veteran mothers’ achievements with awe and inspiration.

“My mom is a shining example of a woman who has made history,” said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Aviana Nash, who works in SUBASE New London’s SUBASE Message Center. “She was one of the first women to be a computer scientist in the Air Force. She was the first of her family to go to college and get multiple degrees, but the only way she got to do that was to join the Air Force. She is from little country Mississippi. She was a country girl who wanted to go to college and the military was the reason she was able to go to school. She got a Bachelor’s and a Master’s. That’s why I like Women’s Mentorship, Women’s Celebration. That’s all near and dear to my heart. That’s why I joined, because my mom was able to use it as a stepping stone. I’m following the legacy.”

From twenty nurses on a repurposed steamboat to yeomen handling important documents in Washington, D.C., to pilots and submariners, women in America’s Navy continue to make positive waves for the service and the nation.


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