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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 30, 2010

Naval Academy sends 11 women to subs

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RIAN WITTE
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The newly commissioned officers of the Naval Academy's class of 2010 celebrated their graduation Friday with the traditional hat toss.

TIFFINI JONES VANDERWYST | Navy

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. Vice President Joe Biden, during the Naval Academy's commissioning ceremony Friday, took special note of 11 graduates who will be the first women to serve on submarines.

Biden said they will inspire others to serve the nation in ways they never thought they could.

"Nothing, nothing, is beyond my daughter and granddaughter's capacity, and you're demonstrating that," Biden said.

The Navy in April lifted a ban on women serving on submarines, where concerns about cramped quarters and long tours at sea kept them off-limits even after women began postings on military surface ships in 1994.

Jessica Wilcox, one of the future submariners, said, "It's exciting and it's a step forward, I think, for everybody, and the fact that I get to be a part of it is incredible and I'm just hoping that we all excel and do great things for all the things that are expected of us."

The breaking of the barrier is especially satisfying to Sharon Disher, one of the academy's first 55 women graduates, in 1980. She attended the commissioning ceremony to watch her daughter, Alison, and her son, Brett, graduate in the class of 2010. "We went through a lot 30 years ago, but everything we went through, it's all been worth it now," she said.

Disher, who wrote a book about her experience, "First Class: Women Join the Ranks at the Naval Academy," recalled that male classmates used to question why she was attending, because she wouldn't be allowed to work on a submarine, fly combat aircraft or be on a combat ship.

"We were constantly fighting that argument, where today the women can pretty much do everything now except for SEALs," Disher, of Annapolis, Md., said.

About 20 women will begin training this year to become submarine officers, and will report for submarine duty by 2012.

The first group of women will consist entirely of officers, assigned to guided-missile attack submarines and ballistic-missile submarines, which have the most living space. Three women will be assigned to each rotating crew, sharing a single stateroom. A single bathroom shared by the vessel's 15 officers will have a sign to show if a man or woman is inside.