Friday, January 30, 2015

Female submariners

Astute-class submarine

NPC released a series of messages opening up submarine enlisted billets to women:

No huge surprises, this is expected.  We already have female submarine officers, and it was inevitable that it would trickle down to enlisted.  Most of our allies have female submarine officers (hence the UK submarine pictured above).

As a guy who used to drive submarines, I haven't weighed in much on the submarine discussion.  I support the move, mainly because I take a very libertarian view towards jobs: if you can do the job, then it should be open to you.  I'd be fine with female Navy SEALs so long as they met the same requirements.

I do predict some upcoming issues though:

1. Yes, we'll have Sailors having sex on submarines.  Duh.  You mix men and women together and it's bound to happen, despite the rules in place.  Those that are professional will be fine, and those that were going to cheat on their wives will just have one more venue open.  It will get a LOT of hype at first, then eventually die down.

2. Female retention will be lower than male retention, because submarines haven't changed their culture.  I expect to see a lot of angst by leaders wondering why female submariners don't stay in.  Simple: submarines, even more so than surface ships, is a hard lifestyle.  On top of that, we still haven't solved the fact that the JO lives on a submarine suck, and after the initial commitment most look back and realize they could be paid the same amount of money but work less hours and not get screamed at by XOs every day.  On top of that, females have a biological clock for having children, something you can't change.  Talk about equality all you want, but if you want to be a mom, you typically need a less stressful job than submarines.

3. Submarine culture will change, which is a good thing.  We won't have the naked antics of the past.  Is that a good thing?  I think so.  We had a guy that would walk naked from the shower to 9-man berthing so that he could "air dry."  Honestly, I don't need to see that, and that sort of stuff will come to an end.

4. Submarines will continue to make their mission happen, but will be told to address "female issues."  This is an undesirable change.  I can see RADM Kirby having to explain why female retention is low and being told the Navy should do more to encourage females to stay in.  That is dumb.  The Navy will best do its job when it is mission focused.  The more we focus on bending rules for one group or another, the more we stray from mission.

There is nothing wrong with making life better for Sailors, and that includes things that would be more beneficial to females than males.  Expanding the Career Intermission Program?  Great idea!  Ensuring the NEX carries items that appeal to females?  Makes good business sense!  Ensuring that sexual assault victims are taken care of?  Absolutely!  But let's not turn that desire into the one-sided focus of female retention, because the reality is that the Navy just isn't as desirable to most females.  If we focus on retaining good people, female or male, we'll come out ahead in the end.