Monday, October 19, 2009

One More Reason for a Male-Only Silent Service

As the Navy brass prepares for a "co-ed" submarine force, they might consider the impact of human biology on other elements of the service.

Navy Times reports that some shore commands in Norfolk, Virginia are heavily staffed by pregnant sailors, and some commanders are complaining about the lack of proper manning to carry out their missions.

The problem--and leadership complaints--resulted in an investigation by the Navy IG. According to the IG report, some of shore-based organizations in the Norfolk area have pregnant sailors in up to 34% of their billets. And due to restrictions associated with their medical condition, the sailors (in many cases) cannot perform all of their assigned duties, placing an added strain on shore commands.

The IG has asked Navy personnel officials to review the new rules for Navy mothers-to-be and consider the work conducted by each rating and how pregnancy affects a sailor’s ability to do that work.

The spike in pregnant sailors assigned to some units comes after the Navy changed its rules for handling mothers-to-be. And it’s compounded by a baby boomlet in the Navy community.

When sailors on sea duty become pregnant, they are transferred to shore-based commands that fit certain criteria, such as being close to a Navy medical center. The length of that assignment changed in June 2007, when the Navy extended the postpartum tour from four months after a child’s birth to 12 months. Combined with a nine-month pregnancy, that puts expectant mothers on limited duty for up to 21 months.

Now, shore industrial and aviation commands say they are receiving more pregnant sailors — from 15 percent to 34 percent of authorized billets, in some cases — who are unable to fulfill essential duties because of their pregnancy, according to the IG.

“If pregnancy trends remain constant, the new pregnancy distribution policy could have over 2,500 sailors counting against shore duty commands in ratings where they are not able to conduct mission-essential work within industrial or hazardous material-type conditions,” the IG report, based on a site visit to Hampton Roads, Va., in March and April, concludes.

But the impact is felt far beyond shore installations. As the Times article indicates, many sailors move to shore duty after becoming pregnant. That means that male sailors (or non-pregnant females) wind up filling the ship billets vacated by the mother-to-be. Unfortunately, the article doesn't indicate how many of the females in Norfolk-area shore commanders were transferred from sea duty after discovering they were pregnant.

Talk to Navy officers and senior NCOs and you'll get a real earful on the effects of this problem. While acknowledging that many female sailors are simply trying to balance a naval career against their desire to start a family, others are gaming the system, they say. In some cases, they say female sailors become pregnant to avoid a projected deployment, or get out of an assignment they don't like.

Years ago, sailors who became pregnant while on active duty were immediately dismissed from the service. By comparison, today's family-friendly Navy goes to great lengths to accommodate pregnant sailors, and there's not much a Captain or Master Chief can do except grit their teeth and suck it up.

You'd think the IG report would offer a cautionary tale for the submarine force and its plan for mixed-gender crews. Running an attack boat or a boomer takes an exceptionally well-trained, cohesive team of officers and enlisted members. Simply stated, the silent service can't afford the kind of turnover caused by pregnancies in other Navy organizations.

But such concerns are being ignored in the rush to break down one last bastion of male service. Sub skippers and Chiefs of the Boat know what's on the way, but speaking out would be a career killer. If the IG's findings are any indication, we'll soon be reading about training, turnover and reliability problems in the sub fleet, thanks to female crew members who decided to get pregnant.


beebs said...

I was at the boat school when women came. Dire effects were predicted. Yet the Navy survived.

Women on subs are a management hurdle. Young women get pregnant, that's what they do. The navy needs to have a real plan on how to handle this.


Anonymous said...

You have a great blog...
wow gold

OldSarg said...

It is the same problem in the Air Force but to a lesser degree. In the aircraft maintenance world. Once pregnant the airman is removed from the flightline and given an admin billet. Since you are only authorized a specific number of personnel in each career field you can not back-fill the position thus you are now short handed.It may not seem that extreme in large career fields but in one where you may only have 10 authorized you just reduced your manpower by 10 percent.

Ed Rasimus said...

I knew the military had changed forever the first time I encountered maternity BDUs. What a concept!

tfhr said...

Ed Rasimus,

"Maternity BDUs". Exactly. I guess it's only a matter of time before we see Camelbacks for nursing mothers. MRE's with strained carrots?

I remember my first sighting - I was having lunch with some of my tank battalion buds at a local restaurant in CONUS when in waddles this Medical Services officer in maternity BDUs and bright, shiny, never been used running shoes. By the way, she was incredibly overweight on top of being pregnant. If she hadn't had those shoes on she would've looked like an M-577.

She had also brought a friend with her that had to be clinically obese and was in her freaking class Bs! What a pair of slobs and what a bizarre concept - maternity BDUs!

There was a table of old retired guys - at least one of them had to have been a sergeant major in his day - next to ours and I cannot even begin to describe the reaction over there but it would include bulging forehead and neck veins to go along with grinding teeth.

On the flip side, there were two pregnant females in my company in Panama. Both were junior NCOs and I cannot tell you how dedicated they were when it came to getting back into shape after they delivered. They formed a pact and pushed each other. It was incredible how quickly they returned to duty - well inside the limits the Army allowed. I used them to great effect to motivate some of my slackers because these two women would absolutely embarrass any soldier that didn't want to push themselves in PT. In fact, they helped push troops that could have just coasted by during unit PT. That is the impact of a strong NCO.

The unit in Panama was part of an intel brigade so it really doesn't address the impact in an environment like that found on submarines. From when I was a tanker I can tell you that a weak soldier was a curse on any tank. If you had a tank with a unit leader on it then you were already down to a crew of three for all of the fun stuff like maintenance, radio watch and guard duty at most times when the unit was not actually on the move. Everybody has to be strong enough to do every task or there will be problems.

There are places in the military where women do very well. My sister had an incredible career as leader in the USAF and I've watched some stellar female performers in the Army but I really think this issue with the Navy is a different kettle of fish. I'd say that it has gone on this long in the "silent service" for good reason and that the issues pertaining to sailors ducking out on sea duty elsewhere stems from a lack of leadership far up the chain.

Old Curmudgeon said...

Maybe the solution is all-female subs?

Mitch Miller

Anonymous said...

@ Old Curmudgeon:

Sub skippers and goats have been in various boats for years before they're given those responsibilities. There are currently no women with dolphins, let alone the years needed to rise to command or senior NCO positions. Absent real on-the-job training with current dolphins, none of the women in your Lysistrata Fleet would ever make quals.

Subs are the exception that proves the rule vis-a-vis women in the military. I have no doubt that some women will make great dolphins but the interpersonal logistics will be a killer.

Since sub duty has always been a volunteer slot, add a requirement that any woman who wants to be a dolphin must use Norplant or a similar long-term contraceptive.

And no, I'm not singing along with Mitch.

Ed Rasimus said...

It's deja vu all over again. This time subs, but for me it was women in cockpits. But, that was 35 years ago and now the women are in ALL of the cockpits including Vipers and Eagles. They've been in combat and they have demonstrated that they can have "the Right Stuff" in similar proportions to the guys--some good, some great, some mediocre.

But, they are accepted and respected today. Which is something the fossils who are my peers never thought they would see.

I'm not condoning affirmative action, selective criteria, or special considerations--when those are not in play, then if they can compete and qualify we will have to let them.

billmill said...

This is not a question of can women do it, it is a question of is it worth the cost. If the Navy has this many shore billets already taken by pregnant sailors that means that some other lucky individual gets to do her at sea time. I saw the same problem to a lesser degree during my career in the Air Force spent primarily in aircraft maintenance. We would lose these women immediately off the line and not get back filled causing some of our already undermanned shops to suffer extra 12-hour shifts and. weekend duty. This was after they had already dropped the physical strength standards to ensure that they had enough women in each career field task.

TOF said...

Well. Pat Schroeder said it was just another career choice. Guess we have to live with it until disaster strikes.

Old Curmudgeon said...

Women scientists have sailed on research expeditions on U.S. Navy subs a number of times. How was that handled logistically and were there any of the sex issues that have been mentioned?

PCSSEPA said...

"I do not avoid women but... I do deny them my essence."

TOF said...

Cleverly put, PCSSEPA.

davod said...

"Young women get pregnant, that's what they do. The navy needs to have a real plan on how to handle this."

How many extra trained submariners are required to cover this eventuality.

Ed Bonderenka said...

I have a navy niece in Japan. Fiance got her preggers and left. Just found out she's going to be retained. What's the point? She has no support system in Japan. How effective can she be?
Other navies have female submariners. That doesn't make it right, only politically correct.
Who needs the drama?

Unknown said...

Maybe the fact that the silent service is still ALL NUKE ought to be a hint. Females' complements of ova are not replenished thorugh out their lifetimes as spermatocytes are in males. The potential of teratogenic effects even under a waiver by a woman that they shall not hold the Navy or DoD liable for birth defects, particurlarly under a current administration owned by personal injury lawyers is a mongolian cluster bomblet ticking away.

Gregory said...

Once again women get preferential treatment.
I am an old diesel boat submariner.
Why doesn't the father get the same preferential treatment because he wants to be 'there' when his child is born. A natural human want and maybe 'right'?

What do you think? Or will women 'always' get 'their way'..

Gregory said...

Women flyiers are not subjected to too much "Hi-diddle"....A world of difference not only in altitude or sub-altitude but an important attitude.;-) difficult to maintain in close quarters.....

Swampfox1965 said...

Captain Ned said:

"Absent real on-the-job training with current dolphins, none of the women in your Lysistrata Fleet would ever make quals."

You forget, Sir, the DSIW factor: Double Standard Involving Women. In the Navy's new politically correct climate diversity trumps mission readiness. Thus, more's the pity, qualification standards will be lowered to accomodate the ladies.