Sometimes, it is hard to say why we make the decisions we do. As I write this article, my household goods move is scheduled and I am eagerly preparing for my next permanent change of station, this time to Kings Bay, Georgia. Taking over as the USS Florida (SSBN 728) (GOLD) Supply Officer is the next milestone in my Naval career. I am thrilled with my choice, but without fail, each and every time I tell anyone (military or civilian) that I am heading to a submarine, I get two responses in rapid fire succession:
1. “Wow, that is really cool and congratulations… I think!”
So, why did I make the decision to raise my hand and volunteer for submarine duty?
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Lt. Jennifer Traul, SC, USN
It actually started back in the Basic Qualification Course (BQC) when our class was informed that females would be allowed on submarines; and we were asked if anyone was interested in taking a tour during our upcoming salt water trip. Of course I said, “Yes, I am!!”
What an amazing opportunity, a chance of a lifetime – a chance that I will most definitely take advantage of. Unfortunately, at the time there was no clear answer as to when the program would be implemented and who would be allowed to go, but I was definitely intrigued. I came to find out a few months later that only second tour females would be detailed to submarines and hence my short lived dream of being the first female to earn her dolphins was dashed. A second operational tour seemed like a lifetime away at that point, so submarines moved to the back burner and I went about business on my first operational tour.
Cut to almost four years later … every day I come to work here at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee, hearing the detailers work their magic, and the one topic that has become an almost deafening roar is Women in Submarines (WIS). From over the pukka wall, I have heard the WIS discussions and recognized that I was now finally in the position to negotiate for my second operational tour and could be a great candidate for the program. Was it time to reach out and make my original dream a reality?
Given my feelings back in the BQC, you would think it was an easy answer, yet I was now somewhat hesitant. Being in a place like OP affords an officer unprecedented access to research every billet available and to hear what board members think about those billets and career paths. In addition, I am privy to the daily conversations between the detailer and other women out there in the fleet who are saying no to submarines. There was no way I was going to jump into a decision without fully exploring my options and carefully considering what was best for my career and my life. So, I did what any person does when trying to make a decision … I made a pro versus con list:
-Department head ride
-High profile / high visibility program
-Help further gender equality by opening another path / line of operation in which females can serve
-Be one of the elite and groundbreaking cadre of female officers to have served on a submarine
-Ability to make a difference in other junior female officers’ and eventually female enlisted lives through mentoring
-Strong promotion opportunity. Women who have served on a submarine have 100 percent selection rate thus far for Lieutenant Commander
-Flexibility to go to my second operational tour earlier than might otherwise be possible based on my year group. This also lends to flexibility when planning my future and could give me a sizeable period of shore duty after the submarine to start a family
-Excellent follow on tour opportunities. Past WIS officers are being chosen and groomed for some of the most high profile positions in the Navy
-Additional financial benefits – sub pay as a Lieutenant equates to about $800 extra per month!
-Possibility of a slightly accelerated path to post graduate school negotiations upon completion of submarine tour
Cons / Questions
-Be under water for months at a time with no sunlight for weeks on end
-Will I make it through Submarine Officer Basic Course (SOBC)?
-What is the future and viability of the program?
-Will I be able to effectively do my job in an environment where the men could be more concerned with the fact that I am a female than a department head?
I could tell immediately that the pros won ... and based on that, I knew I should jump on the opportunity to go to a submarine. But I still wasn’t completely sold. The one unanswered nagging question in my mind was: Why are women not blowing up the detailer’s phone to go to a submarine? Don’t get me wrong, there have been a number of volunteers, all of whom are very impressive women, but in my mind every woman should be taking advantage of this opportunity. I wanted to know why they weren’t and if I was missing something that could hurt my career in the future. I reached out to mentors and friends within the Supply Corps, everyone from women currently serving on submarines to board members traveling through Millington to my chain of command here at Naval Supply Systems Command Office of Personnel (OP), to get honest answers and guidance about life on a submarine and career after a submarine. This step in my decision process was the most enlightening, as it really gave me a human perspective which sufficiently assuaged my fears and answered almost all of my questions … still don’t know if I will make it through the mental gym and SOBC, but I am confident!
In the end, I realized there was no clear answer to why some might choose not to serve on a submarine, just as there was no clear answer to any decision in one’s career. I have learned many things being stationed here at OP, one of the most important is that there are limitless career paths that can lead to success and “success” for each person is different. I want to be able to look back on my career and know that I was an asset to the Navy and that I made a difference in the lives of others. So for me, with my objective due diligence in hand, it was something intangible and indescribable that ultimately drew me to lean over the pukka and tell Lt. Cmdr. Bryan Lukie to sign me up for a submarine. Decision made.
By LT Jennifer A. Traul, SC, USN; Assistant Supply Corps Career Counselor, Naval Supply Systems Command Office of Personnel