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Pentagon Approves Lifting Ban of Women on Submarines

Pentagon Approves Lifting Ban of Women on Submarines

The Pentagon said on Tuesday it is moving ahead with plans to end the U.S. military's ban on allowing women to serve in submarines.

Lawmakers were notified by a letter from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates that a decision by the Navy could have the first women on nuclear submarines by next year, according to Reuters.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary explained "This is fundamentally a Navy initiative, which they recently briefed to the secretary of defense. (Gates) supports it and he notified Congress of the Navy's plans."

Of 336,000 members in the US Navy, approximately 15 percent are women and can serve on Navy surface ships. Critics argue that submarines are different because of cramped quarters -- some crews practicing "hot bunking" where crews have shifts to share beds. 

Opponents of lifting the ban have argued for decades that space is at a premium on submarines. To accommodate privacy needs of females, including separate berthing and “heads” or toilet/shower facilities, would be “prohibitively expensive,” Navy has argued. Watch duty, bunk management, extra supplies and incidents of fraternization and harassment would complicate submarine life, according to one study done for the Navy in 1994.

One would think that would be and argument for same sex submarines at the very least, not an all out ban on women from subs.

Reuters reports a US defense official saying that most likely a scenario would see women that are officers being the first to join crews on fleet of 71 submarines belonging to the Navy, since officers have separate accommodations than other crew members.

Congress has to provide official comment on the decision of the Navy within 30 days.

Advocate for expansion of the role of women in the US armed forces, Nancy Duff Campbell, applauded the decision and noted she did not expect opposition from lawmakers. "This is something that has a lot of support (within the military) and the Navy has a serious plan" to carefully integrate submarine personnel, she said.

The allowance of women on submarines would be additional progress in the expansion of the role of women in the military. It was only in 2008 that a woman reached the rank of four-star general for the first time.

Army General George Casey testified in the Senate on Tuesday saying he thought it was time to re-examine policies placing restrictions on women in combat roles. "We don't have an active effort going on, but I think it's time," Casey said.

The US armed forces still bar women from traditional combat roles, but female soldiers frequently face the same risks as men in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other attacks can happen almost anywhere.

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Boo Jarchow