Navy women earn their stripes; fill many crucial slots
Norfolk, Va. — "Female phone talkers" exist in the Navy, as well as in civilian life -- and some will soon be busily engaged in communications duties aboard ship in the Indian Ocean crisis area.
When the USS L. Y. Spear, a submarine tender, sails shortly from here with the next relay of warships for the Indian Ocean, 94 of its complement of about 1 ,100 will be women.
The newest deployments of women, including 60 out of 850 aboard the repair ship USS Vulcan, just returned from the first feminine Navy deployment to the Mediterranean, indicate how far the 533 women now serving aboard 25 Navy ships have come since Nov. 1, 1978.
On that date, the first Navy women reported for sea duty --board other than transport or hospital ships.
On the long voyage home before passing the helm to a new commander, the Vulcan's Capt. Harry Spencer Jr. recalls how we weathered an Atlantic storm in his bridge chair "with a female helmsman, a female quartermaster-navigator, a female phone talker -- even a female officer of the deck -- and I was as comfortable and at ease with them as I have ever been in a storm with any ship."
The Navy's present attitude toward women at sea seems to be gratitude that they are there and concern to get on with the job.
"The women themselves, their male counterparts, and Navy officials up and down the chain of command are anxious to stop focusing attention on them," reports Lt. comdr. John alexander, the US Second Fleet's public information officer. "Only when sailors reach anonymity without reference to their sex can the integration of women into the armed services be called truly successful."
Since women are barred from combat roles in the Navy, as in the other services, an all nuclear-propelled ships are combatants, the deployment aboard the L. Y. spear is one of the first in the Navy bringing women into closer proximity to a possible battle situation.
The 13,000-ton L. Y. Spear is designed especially to service the nuclear-powered SSN-688 Los Angeles-class attack subnarines, and can service four simultaneously, if necessary. The United States and the Soviet Union have been keeping from 20 to 30 surface ships in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea since the Iran-Afghanistan crises began last year. The US announces their movements. Neither side, however, advertises submarine movements.The SSN-688 boats are often assigned to a "hunter-killer" role of tracking enemy submarines.
Women are performing often-arduous duties aboard ship, and performing them well, according to eyewitnesses. A Detroit News reporter on a winter Atlantic Cruise reported that women sailors "manhandled heavy, ice-covered deck lines, guided the whell from the ship's pilot house . . . helped repair ship's machinery inthe deep, unfamiliar world that exists below decks, and wrestled 50 -pound containers up and down perilously narrow mess-deck ladders."
When women began going to sea in November 1978, the Chief of Naval Operations , Adm. Thomas Hayward, said: "We all have apprehensions -- the men have apprehensions, and the women do also, and so do some of the wives. But I believe we're going to do this thing well, and I'm confident that we will be smart enough to make adjustments when necessary."
The Vulcan's five-month Mediterranean voyage did include one incident for which two male sailors were disciplined. They disobeyed regulations by entering the women's quarters, apparently as a prank.