PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When the U.S. Navy sought the first female sailors to serve on submarines, Suraya Mattocks raised her hand because she thought it would be a cool job, not because she wanted to blaze a trail. She did anyway.

It has been eight years since the Navy lifted its ban on women in submarines. The chaos and disruption some predicted largely haven’t materialized. Women like Mattocks are focused on doing their jobs well. Their retention rates are on par with those of men – much higher than the Navy had anticipated, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

And they want to be seen simply as “submariners,” not “female submariners.”

“That’ll be a great day when it’s not so new that everyone wants to talk about it,” Mattocks told the AP in a rare interview.

The Navy began bringing female officers on board submarines in 2010; enlisted female sailors followed five years later.

By now, the first 19 female officers have decided whether to sign a contract to go back to sea as a department head, which keeps them on the career path for a submarine officer, or have chosen a different path. Five women signed. Fourteen women have either left the military, will soon leave or are serving elsewhere in the Navy, according to records requested by the AP.


That’s a retention rate of 26 percent for the first female officers, just shy of the roughly 27 percent of male officers selected for submarine service in 2010 who signed a department head contract. The Navy had been looking for at least 15 percent for women.

“You always want higher” numbers, said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, but he is encouraged by the growing number of female officer candidates who want to be submariners. Richardson led the submarine force at the beginning of the integration, from late 2010 to 2012. At that time, some submarine veterans, wives of submariners and active-duty members were calling the change a mistake. The living quarters were too tight, there was little privacy and romantic relationships could develop, they feared.

Many now say the transition went smoothly, with one major exception. Male sailors were prosecuted in 2015 for secretly videotaping female officers and trainees as they undressed on the USS Wyoming.

“They did court-martial the perpetrators. It wasn’t laughed off, and that’s a good thing,” said retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government relations for the Service Women’s Action Network.

To address privacy, the Navy is retrofitting subs with extra doors and designated washrooms. Future subs will be built with the height, reach and strength of women in mind.

Mattocks is on the USS Michigan, a sub that splits its time between Washington state and Guam. Sailors have in some cases organically changed their behavior to accommodate changing times.


Some accustomed to sleeping in their underwear now don a robe or sweats to go to the bathroom.

“That goes for both sides. It’s not that all females have to wear this and males can do whatever they want,” Mattocks said. “It’s just little things like that, having both genders in a small space.”

One-fifth of submarine crews are integrated. It will take until about 2026 before a woman could be in command of a U.S. Navy submarine.

Mattocks, a 34-year-old yeoman first class from Dover, New Hampshire, joined the Navy after graduating from high school and will retire when she hits 20 years of service. She said she probably would have chosen to stay in the submarine force if it weren’t so late in her naval career. “I found something I love, something new in the Navy that I love,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten bored with it.”

Megan Stevenson, 25, of Ray- mond, Maine, trained at the Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut, before heading to the USS Louisiana in Bangor, Washington. Stevenson said she would sometimes get double takes.

“The way I look at submarines is kind of like an astronaut,” said Stevenson. “It’s a unique experience that so few people have done; I want to experience that.”

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