Leadership: Women Take Command At Sea


February 2, 2010:  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.) For that last one, rear Admiral Nora Tyson will assume command of the task force containing CVN USS George H W Bush, later this year. All these are firsts. Another recent first was the 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 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.

Two years earlier, F-18 pilot, Commander Sara Joyner, completed her 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. Joyner has 3,000 hours in the F-18, and 600 carrier landings. Once women were allowed to fly combat aircraft, it was only a matter of time before some of them rose to command positions. Her husband is also a naval aviator, and she had a four year old daughter. Her next assignment was a staff job in the Pentagon.

Women have only been allowed on combat ships since 1994. About ten percent of navy officers are female, as are nine percent of enlisted personnel.


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