The sub force's first female trailblazers


Women attended nuclear power school in the early 1980s to qualify to stand engineering watches in the submarine force, an initiative that was later abandoned. // Jane Reoch

With female officers reporting for duty this month to the submarine force, news stories have hailed these trailblazers as the first female submariners. While that may be true, they’re not without forebears, one reader told Navy Times.

In the early 1980s, roughly 120 women were recruited into the nuclear Navy to join the submarine force, according to Jane Reoch, a former machinist’s mate first class who joined the Navy in 1979 as part of this effort.

“Our mission was to get qualified so that we could stand engineering watches at the various ports where submarines were stationed,” Reoch said, adding that the aim was to “augment ship’s force, so that they could spend more time with their families.”

Yet before female nukes ever stood engineering watches aboard subs, the Navy shelved the program — an outcome that Reoch believes can be traced to resistance from chiefs of the boat.

Instead, Reoch ended up working at a repair facility and later as an instructor at the nuclear prototype in Ballston Spa, N.Y. Now, she’s developed a website to reconnect with women in the program.

“I’ve even received emails from other men that served,” she added, “and they said, ‘Well, jeez. I wish you had been able to do that!’”


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