OK let’s get this out of the way: I believe that if a person – man, woman, gay, straight, Black, White, Hispanic, or whatever – is qualified to and has proven that they can do a certain job, that they should be allowed to do so. Having said that, I also believe that not one iota of said job standards and expectations should be changed. If a person wants to do the job that badly, they had better step up and perform like those before them. And in the case of one US Navy sailor, those expectations were met, and in the process, a long-time barrier was breached. Yesterday, the first female enlisted sailor pinned on the “silver dolphins” which qualified her to serve aboard submarines.
During a ceremony at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington State, Chief Culinary Specialist Dominique Saavedra was awarded the qualification pin, noting her pride by stating “To have earned the respect of my fellow submariners is more rewarding than expected. I am honored to serve as a qualified member in such a prestigious community.” Saavedra has orders to deploy aboard the nuclear powered guided missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727), which will be the first sub to deploy with a crew which includes female sailors. Females will make up roughly 20 percent of the crew, or 29 sailors (2 chief petty officers and the remaining 27 at the rank of petty officer and below.)
A LONG BUT GLORIED ROAD
Saavedra’s achievement is a huge milestone for the submarine community, but it is not by any means the first for women in the Navy. Women have served in the Navy in various capacities for over a century, and the first female to earn her “dolphins” was Lieutenant Britta Christianson, part of the USS Ohio’s Gold Crew Supply Corps. Soon after, on 5 December 2012, three Sailors assigned to USS Maine (SSBN 741) and USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) became the first female unrestricted line officers to qualify in U.S. submarines (Lt. j.g. Marquette Leveque, Gold Crew – Wyoming, Lt. j.g. Amber Cowan and Lt. j.g. Jennifer Noonan – both of Maine’s Blue Crew.)
In 1978, then chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that as unconstitutional the law banning Navy women from ships in Owens v. Brown. That year, Congress approved a change to Title 10 USC Section 6015 to permit the Navy to assign women to fill sea duty billets on support and noncombatant ships, then during the 1970s, women began to enter the surface warfare and aviation fields. In March of 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter approved plans submitted by the services branches authorizing that all combat jobs be opened to women.
So Bravo Zulu to you, Chief Saavedra, on your accomplishment. Man or woman, you have done what very few can say that they have even attempted. You have taken a step into an elite corps, and for better or worse, all eyes are on you. I for one believe that you will bring honor to the profession and to the United States Navy. Make the silver dolphins proud.