Women Serving on US Navy Submarines: Great! (As Long as They're as Strong as the Guys)

julie marsh
Photo by Aimee Gies
Last week, the deadline passed for Congress to raise objections to the US Navy's policy change regarding the assignment of women to submarines. Now it's official: Yet another gender-based barrier has bitten the dust.

It's been a long road. From accommodating pregnancy (this 1979 Time magazine article is a hoot 30 years later) to women serving in combat roles, integrating women into the military has been a battle, pun intended.


As a woman who served in the military -- at the Pentagon, in fact, among many of the top decision-makers and highest-ranking members of all four armed services -- I take great pride in the expanding role of women in our nation's defense:

"Today military women serve in all jobs and assignments stateside and overseas except in direct ground combat and in units with a high probability of direct enemy contact. They are also prohibited from serving in Special Forces and aboard submarines. There are currently an estimated 344,500 women in the armed forces; on Active Duty, in the National Guard and in the Reserves. They serve in every enlisted rank, and in the officer corps, all but the four-star general/flag officer rank."

I support the integration of women into military units just as I support the integration of gays or any other group that has faced cultural opposition. However, when it comes to combat roles, I hold a stricter -- and less feminist, some might say -- view on physical qualifications, and it has nothing to do with whether a service member has a penis or a vagina.

In short, if a woman can't meet the same physical standards that men must meet, she shouldn't serve in the same role. Period. It's not about denying women an opportunity; it's about getting the job done.

Think about it: If your home were on fire and a female firefighter responded but wasn't physically able to rescue your family, wouldn't you rather have a firefighter -- male or female -- who could get you out of there safely?

Likewise, on the battlefield, it's crucial that every service member -- male and female -- be physically able to fulfill their duties. It's not simply a matter of physical fitness, but as essential to military readiness as weapons and supplies.

The barriers to women serving on subs have been primarily cultural, with minor logistical elements (such as separate facilities and sleeping quarters), and the Navy and Congress made the right decision. But as the Army and Marine Corps consider integrating women into ground combat roles, they must ensure that the same rigorous physical standards remain in place for men and women, for the sake of the mission.

Read More >