Navy Secretary: 'We Don't Have Enough Women in Navy or Marine Corps'

By Susan Jones | May 1, 2015 | 7:19 AM EDT

( - "We don't have enough women in either the Navy or the Marine Corps, and we've got to do a better job of recruiting and we've got to do a better job of retaining those women," Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus Jr. said on Thursday.

He told a gathering at the National Press Club that he's in the process of changing the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps uniforms -- "so that when you look out, you see American sailors and Marines, not particularly female sailors or male sailors...And this is symbolic in terms of not segregating women, of making sure that they are substantively and symbolically the heart of our force, power."

This past September, the Navy announced that the various uniform changes would include new dress whites for female chiefs and officers. Those dress whites will be "redesigned to look more like their male counterparts' dress whites," the Navy said at the time.

Uniforms aren't the only things that are changing: The Navy says all new surface ships are built from the keel up to accommodate women.  Older ships undergo "habitability modifications," such as replacing urinals with toilets.

As of June 2014, 17 percent of active duty Naval officers (9,334) were women. And women comprised 18 percent (50,108) of active duty enlistees.

Mabus said the only Navy tasks currently closed to women are "trigger-pullers for the SEALs." Women currently serve as intelligence, logistics and communications officers, and Mabus said they've been deploying with SEAL teams "for a good while now."

Under orders from former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Navy has until 2016 to open all combat jobs to women or request a waiver from Congress.

Mabus said the training standards must "have something to do with the job."

"My notion -- and this is personal -- 80 percent of men don't make it through BUD/S (SEAL training). Have some standards. Make sure the standards have something to do with the job. And then whoever can pass, whoever can make it through, do it."

Someone asking Mabus how it's working out with women serving on submarines:

"I made the decision for women to serve on submarines in June of 2010," Mabus replied. "I got to tell you, nobody cared. I mean, it was sort of a big nothing. The next month, the CNO at the time, Gary Roughead, banned smoking on submarines. Everybody cared!

"We've had women now for several cruises on our ballistic missile submarines, on our guided missile submarines. The first women have begun reporting to our attack submarines now, and they're earning their dolphins. They're doing the things -- and again, it's -- there's no news here. There's -- it's -- they're American sailors, and they're doing an amazing job under the sea.

"And I'll repeat what I said during the speech. We don't have enough, and we've got to do a better job of getting and keeping women in the Navy and the Marine Corps."

Speaking about the Navy and Marine Corps in general, Mabus said he plans to make an announcement in mid-May about some of the things he's doing to maintain the quality of the force and to retain and attract the best people:

He mentioned allowing people to leave the Navy for a while to pursue other careers or education -- then come back in and compete for promotions "as though they never left." He said he favors promotions based on merit, not just on time served.

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