June 7, 2010: For the first time, a female officer will serve as CAG (commander of the air group on an aircraft carrier.) This is no surprise to those in navy. It's a situation that's been developing for decades. In the mid 1970s, the U.S. Navy began letting women into Annapolis (the Naval Academy) and flight school. Some 35 years later we have women commanding combat aircraft squadrons, cruisers, an amphibious task force (expeditionary strike group) and a strike group (a carrier task force.)
The newly appointed CAG, recently promoted captain Sara Joyner had, two years earlier been F-18 pilot Commander Joyner. At that time, she had just completed a tour as the first female commander of a navy combat squadron (VFA 105). This included a seven month cruise to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, where her dozen F-18Cs flew about 412 hours each. The squadron had 245 officers and sailors, including pilots and maintenance personnel. The squadron commander flew combat missions, in addition to running the squadron.
Joyner had been in the navy since 1985, when she entered the Naval Academy. She was a flight instructor in 1993, when the Department of Defense changed its policy and allowed women to fly combat missions. When she took over VFA 105, she already had 3,000 hours in the F-18, and 600 carrier landings. After running VFA 105, her next assignment was a staff job in the Pentagon. Her husband is also a naval aviator, and she has a young daughter.
Another female Naval Academy graduate (Class of 1985) recently received an even more senior naval aviation command. This year, Rear Admiral Nora Tyson took command of Task Force 73 (CVN USS George H W Bush and escorts). This was another first.
There have also been some less memorable firsts. Like the recent removal of a female captain of a warship for abusive treatment of the crew, and her demeanor and temperament in general. The relieved captain, of the cruiser USS Cowpens, was also a 1985 Naval Academy graduate, and she was relieved as she was at the end of her tour of duty on the Cowpens, and in the process of turning over command to another officer. The dismissed captain went off to her next assignment, as a staff officer.
Women have only been allowed on combat ships since 1994. Once women were allowed to fly combat aircraft, it was only a matter of time before some of them rose to command positions. Currently, about ten percent of navy officers are female, as are nine percent of enlisted personnel. Only 4.2 percent of navy aviators (pilots) are women, as are 6.9 percent of flight officers (non-pilot aircrew).