Navy women reach new heights

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

The submarine school in Groton, Conn., will include 19 women this year, the first group since the Navy lifted its ban on women serving on submarines.

On Thursday, the Navy reached another milestone, when women swept the annual Sailor of the Year awards for the first time.

Their achievement was marked by meritorious promotions to chief petty officer in a ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, with their families and commanders proudly looking on as chief's anchors were penned to the lapels of their khakis. The four sailors of the year were chosen from the enlisted fleet of 273,226. Every year they are feted in Washington, whisked with their families from museum to monument during a week of kudos and congratulations from Navy brass.

This year, though, history was made -- and the pride was palpable.

"It's almost like the sky's the limit," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Ingrid J. Cortez, 32, who just returned to Virginia Beach from a two-year deployment on the amphibious assault ship Bataan. "We no longer have obstacles for women."

The sailors were chosen for their overall performance and leadership, Navy officials said.

Since the first sailors of the year were honored in 1972, women occasionally have risen to the top of a pile culled from hundreds of nominations submitted by the fleet, officials said. But today's commanders described the ascension of Cortez, Chief Operations Specialist Samira McBride, Chief Hospital Corpsman Shalanda L. Brewer and Chief Cryptologic Technician Technical Cassandra Foote as a product of women's integration in the fleet that deepened in 1993. That's when female sailors began serving on surface warships and combat aircraft.

"What we're seeing this year is the benefits of that change," said Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations. "For four women to rise to the top is extraordinarily unusual."

In June, Rear Adm. Nora Tyson became the first woman to command a carrier strike group, and Cmdr. Sara Joyner became the first to head a carrier air wing.

"That's the centerpiece of combat capability in the Navy," Roughead said.

Special forces remain the only role closed to Navy women.

Cortez, McBride, Brewer and Foote are rising in an active-duty and reserve fleet in which enlisted women make up 16.4 percent and officers 15.8 percent, according to Navy data.

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