The Modern Navy: Leadership and Tradition
On July 1, 2014, Admiral Michelle Howard broke two historic barriers when she assumed the role of Vice Chief of Naval Operations: she became the first woman, and the first African-American in the Navy's second highest job.
Congress authorized admission of women to the military academies including the U.S. Naval Academy in 1975. Three years later, women were first assigned to supply and non-combatant ships. Women's opportunities in the Navy significantly increased in 1993 following the repeal of the combat exclusion law, which allowed officer and enlisted women to serve on combatant ships and in combat aviation roles. It was also during this same time period that the Navy conducted the first feasibility study on women entering submarine community. Seventeen years later, in 2010, the Navy announced a policy change allowing female officers to serve on submarines.
Admiral Howard's achievements are part of a decades-long transition in the U.S. Navy as more women join the service and are encouraged to continue their careers to achieve the highest command and leadership positions. As early as 1991, Admiral William J. Crowe, Jr., former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, "I would like to say that the Navy does, indeed, want women to serve in an ever-increasing number of positions...limited only by an individual's own abilities, attitudes and desire."
Less than a decade later, women not only served in combat zones but commanded combat ships and flew combat missions in Iraq and the Balkans. As positions opened to women, female naval officers and enlisted Sailors rose to fill them from the Seabees to Surface Warfare Commander, from Director of the Senior Enlisted Academy to Vice Admiral.
At the Naval War College, women from all branches of the military, and civilian faculty members, have had a lasting impact on the future of the force. In 2012, the Naval War College assumed the role of host for the Women, Peace, and Security Conference, which highlights the ways that women directly impact diplomacy, security, and peace across the globe.
In 2015, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus tripled maternity leave for women in the Navy and the Marine Corps as "an investment in our people and our Services, and a safeguard against losing skilled service members;" a complete reversal of the Cold War policy, abolished in 1973, that forced pregnant women and adoptive mothers to separate from the Navy.
Today, every speech from the Navy's leadership addresses "the men and women of the Navy," and the service celebrates new "firsts" for equality and increased opportunity for female sailors.