A submarine officer, Admiral Trost was Chief of Naval Operations, 1986-1990. Reprinted with permission from the September issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.
After reading the commentary by J. Michael Brower in the June Proceedings, I concluded once again that too much has been written about women in the military-or, in this case, women in submarines-by too many people who know too little about the subject.
In his article, Mr. Brower rehashes many of the arguments be and others already have put forth-e.g., women can do the job; other nations assign women to submarines; and the problem can be managed by Navy leaders under orders to make it work. (Actually, dealing with complex personnel issues demands leadership, not management skills.) He concludes: “If trends in allied submarine forces are an indication, gender-neutrality aboard American submarines is the wave of the future.” Gender neutrality? This sounds like unwanted-and unneeded-surgery. To use old submarine lingo: We’ve lost the bubble. The voices of experienced military leaders are being overridden by faulty social philosophy.
The true issues are not:
- Whether women can serve capably and productively in our military forces. They can; they have been; and they continue to do so.
- Whether women are smart enough (we know they are), or capable enough (they are), or physically strong enough (no one can argue that certain jobs are more difficult for personnel of smaller stature or less physical strength, regardless of gender.
- Whether submarine leaders can handle the leadership challenge. Like their counterparts in other branches, they’ll do their very best.
In my view, the only real issue is: What is the impact on military (combat) readiness of assigning women to certain positions, including placing them in units where they can be directly exposed to the horrors of combat or POW status or in current so-called al/-male bastions such as submarines.
Proponents of women in submarines say it’s simply a case of removing “some operational equipment” to make room for the “inexpensive” modifications required to house a mixed-gender crew for lengthy periods of submerged operations in an area smaller than the passenger cabin of a Boeing 747. To compound this situational unawareness, these proponents blithely dismiss the compelling fact that this “equipment” removal will degrade the submarine’s combat capability. Further, these same experts say that the impact on crew morale, motivation, and retention stemming from the views of submariners’ wives is irrelevant. Have they talked to many submarine wives? Their views do matter-big time!
When our armed military forces face their next hostile challenge, let’s hope that we have maintained our prior focus on combat readiness-not on the attainment of fantasy-driven social-engineering goals or political expediency.