- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2012

A naval supply officer from Wisconsin has become the first woman to serve on a Navy submarine and earn her “dolphins pin,” which denotes her qualifications to work aboard subs.

“I was honored to be given the opportunity to serve aboard a submarine, so receiving my dolphins is like icing on the cake for me,” Lt. Britta Christianson, 30, said in a statement.

Lt. Christianson was awarded her pin during a ceremony Friday at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state, where she is stationed on the USS Ohio. She spent more than a year in training, which included a six-month deployment on the sub.

“She was required to demonstrate knowledge in basic submarine operations, engineering fundamentals, perform damage control functions and qualify as a diving officer of the watch,” said Lt. Ed Early, spokesman for Submarine Group 9, the unit to which Lt. Christianson was assigned.

Other women previously have earned dolphins pins, which displays the Navy’s submarine warfare insignia, but Lt. Christianson is the first to do so after having served on a sub.

She is one of the first 24 women selected to take part in submarine officer training after the Navy reversed its ban on women on submarines in 2010 – a decision that stoked controversy over women serving 90-day deployments with men in the confined spaces of a sub.

Lt. Christianson was one of seven female supply officers in the program. The other 17 women are training as line officers, or submarine warfare officers.

To become warfare officers, they must complete six months of nuclear power school and six months in a nuclear power training unit in addition to basic submarine officer school. They will earn their dolphins pins in January.

The submarine warfare insignia is one of the Navy’s three major warfare designators, along with the aviator “wings” pin and the surface warfare badge.

In the training program, the 24 women were deployed last fall to four of the Navy’s largest submarines – its Ohio-class ballistic-missile and guided-missile vessels. Six women were assigned to each submarine, three on each of the sub’s two crews.

“It was a lot of hard work. But at the end of the day, two things bring us and our submarine home safely: knowledge of the submarine and our ability to execute the mission, and that basically sums up what dolphins are all about,” Lt. Christianson said.

“I owe a lot of my thanks to my captain, chiefs and crewmembers, who trained me and helped me to learn my boat,” added the lieutenant, who is also the first woman to qualify as diving officer of the watch, responsible for driving the sub.

The Ohio-class submarines were chosen for the program due to their larger size in comparison to other vessels, which allows them to better accommodate new berthing and bathroom arrangements.

On the subs, the women have separate sleeping quarters from the men, sharing one of the ship’s five officer staterooms. Bathrooms, which contain urinals and toilets, are shared by men and women, but display a sign outside indicating if a man or woman is inside.

“We’re continuing with our plan to integrate the female officers on the Ohio-class submarine first, and future integration of female officers and crew members aboard attack submarines is being considered at the moment, and we plan to study the design capability required to make that happen,” Lt. Early said.

• Kristina Wong can be reached at kwong@washingtontimes.com.

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