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Riverines to add women in March

6 will break gender barrier unless Congress blocks move

Mar. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
First Females Graduate Riverine Combat Skills Cour
The first Riverine Combat Skills Course to include women took place in October 2012. Nearly a year and a half later, the community plans to officially open to women. (MCSN Heather M. Paape/Navy)
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Barring a last-second roadblock from Congress, the six women already assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 2 will become the first official female riverines in March, a Navy spokesman said.

The Navy notified Congress in February of its intent to integrate the units, giving lawmakers 30 days to voice any objections before moving ahead with plans, Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, told Navy Times.

“We evaluated the training, we put our plan together on how we would do it, and that’s what we presented to Congress,” Servello said. “Once we get through that 30 days in session of both the House and the Senate, which will be March, we can begin moving out with it.”

Sixteen women have completed the Riverine Combat Skills Course since the first class of female sailors participated in fall 2012. Six of them were assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 2’s Delta Company at Portsmouth, Va., last fall while the Navy prepared to notify Congress.

They’re currently in Cherry Point, N.C., in the midst of pre-deployment training, according to a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command spokeswoman, waiting for the go-ahead.

“Since these women are already assigned to CRS 2 Delta and have completed the required riverine training, there will be no time lag between congressional approval and report dates,” Barbara Wilcox said.

The Navy’s two other riverine units — Squadron 4 in Virginia Beach, Va., and Squadron 3 in San Diego — are next, she said. Squadron 3 has a company deployed and Squadron 4 just returned from deployment. Once they’ve completed post-deployment procedures, they’ll begin integrating women.

“With the complex and intense training required of riverine sailors, and in preparation for the lifting of the women in combat exclusion, both squadrons are implementing plans to incorporate women into the riverine company as soon as feasible,” Wilcox said.

'We definitely had a bond'

The Navy opened riverine training to women in 2012 even though women couldn’t be assigned to the boats. When the Defense Department lifted the women’s combat-exclusion rule in early 2013, the possibilities opened up.

Of the 16 women who have completed Riverine Combat Skills, four have gone on to earn their Riverine Crewman qualification and five are qualified riverine security team members. The complete riverine curriculum is rounded out by the Riverine Unit Level Leader course.

Navy Times spoke to the first class of women in 2012 after they graduated from the five-week course, which was not modified to accommodate them.

“A lot of my male counterparts talked it up to be way more than I thought it would be,” Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (EXW) Brittney Hellwig said. “It was easier than I thought.”

The men in the course were supportive, the female sailors said, but the camaraderie of the other women going through the course for the first time made things easier.

“We definitely had a bond,” Master-at-Arms Seaman Angela Evans said of the relationship among the four women. “We knew we were the first group to go in, and we were all supporting each other.”

The riverines are the latest group to begin allowing women as the Navy continues opening ground combat billets to female sailors.

The first women to serve aboard attack submarines, four nuclear-trained officers and two supply officers, will report to the subs Virginia and Minnesota early next year. Submarine Force commander Vice Adm. Michael Connor has said he will next select two Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based attack subs to welcome women in 2016.

Naval special warfare, the last community to ban women, is studying possibilities for integration into the SEALs. A report is expected this summer, and if the Navy finds it feasible, women could begin reporting to boot camp in fall 2015 with the intention of joining the SEALs and enter special warfare training the following spring.■

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