Posted by: arbeam | July 22, 2013

Female submariner just another crew member

Lt. Britta Christianson speaks at the July meeting for members of the U.S. Submarine Veterans Bremerton Base. Christianson became the first woman to qualify as a submariner supply officer after the Navy lifted its ban on females serving on subs in 2011.  NW Navy Life Photo

Lt. Britta Christianson speaks at the July meeting for members of the U.S. Submarine Veterans Bremerton Base. Christianson became the first woman to qualify as a submariner supply officer after the Navy lifted its ban on females serving on subs in 2011.                                    NW Navy Life Photo

When the U.S. Navy decided to lift its ban on women being serving on board submarines in 2011, Lt. Britta Christianson quickly jumped on the band wagon. Now, nearly 20 months later, she reports that the transition has been smooth sailing. Christianson, the supply officer for the USS Ohio (SSGN 726) Gold crew at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, arrived to the boat in November 2011. She became the first women to qualify in submarines as a supply officer in June 2012 when she donned her Submarine Warfare “Dolphins” insignia, considered one of the Navy’s three major warfare pins. 

The Chippewa Falls, Wis. native admits a future on submarines had been on her mind for quite some time. “Submarines were in the back of my mind ever since I was a midshipman and went on a summer cruise when I was a freshman in college, riding on USS Florida (SSNG 728) for a day,” she said. “At that time I didn’t think I would be around for the integration, but that day ride planted the seed in my mind that never really left.”

Christianson graduated and commissioned from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science in 2004 and reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. as a student naval flight officer the following year.

She was later selected for E2-C Hawkeyes and reported to the Fleet Replacement Squadron VAW-120 in Norfolk, Va., earning her wings in June 2007, but soon decided to transfer to the Supply Corps.

After qualifying at the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens Ga. in 2008, she received orders to the destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98). She served on the ship for two years as supply officer, participating in Baltic Operations, an annual military exercise sponsored by United States Naval Forces Europe in the Baltic Sea, since 1971, and later deployed to the Gulf of Aden in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Christianson said she jumped at the chance for submarine duty as soon as she heard the Navy was changing its gender policy for submarine duty. “I was in the middle of a seven-month deployment on the destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) and received a message from the chief of the Supply Corps saying that they were taking applications from female supply officers to be part of the integration of women on submarines. I knew right then I was going to apply.”

In January 2011, Christianson was forward deployed to Afghanistan and assigned to Camp Eggers in Kabul working as the Afghan National Police fuels officer for NATO training command. While there she was notified that she had been accepted for the Women in Submarines Program and when she returned from Afghanistan she attended the submarine officer basic course at Submarine Base Groton, Conn. After graduating, she reported to USS Ohio (Gold) as the supply officer in November 2011.

Chistianson says she never had any hoops to jump through during her quest to get submarine qualified after submitting her package and going through the interview process. “The hardest part of my training was all the mathematics required at the submarine basic officer course,” she said. “Having been out of college almost eight years when I attended, it was pretty tough for me.”

Now, almost two years later, she has completed three full deployments and two voyage repair periods on board Ohio.

Christianson says that the integration for the first wave of females coming to subs went smoothly. “It was pretty painless. The crews welcomed us with open arms and took us under their wings,” she said. “Now we’ve gone full circle and are fully integrated. We’re just part of the crew.”

She says she enjoys most interacting with the other submariners. “I enjoy teaching the crew everything I know about supply and the rest of the Navy and having them teach me everything they know about submarines,” she said.  “But the best part of submarine duty is the camaraderie amongst the crew. Submariners take care of submariners. There is a certain pride in just being a submariner,” she added.

She said she has experienced no problems with claustrophobia on board the nearly 600-foot long Ohio. “It’s the Cadillac of submarines. The size of the spaces on the boat are comparable to the destroyer I served on. SSNs are much smaller.”

Chistianson says she fulfilled her biggest goal while serving on Ohio when she pinned on her dolphins. “Now I just want to do my job well and support the boat standing watch,” she said.

She will transfer off Ohio in March 2014. She currently has orders for her next assignment to the Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound.

Having served duty now with squadrons, ships and submarines, Christianson says there is not much difference amongst the three. “They are really all very similar. The Navy is the Navy anywhere you go. The jobs that I did at each were obviously different, but the expectations of each command were the same… do our jobs to the best of our ability to accomplish the mission.”

Does she see a woman ever commanding a submarine? “That’s the plan. We had 23 females in the first wave of the integration and as long as they stay in long enough, one of them will one day definitely command a sub. These women are very smart and capable of commanding a submarine.”

Right now there are women serving aboard three submarines, three on both the Gold and Blue crews of USS Maine and USS Louisiana and four on USS Ohio.

With nine years of active service under her belt, Chistianson says she definitely plans on making the Navy a career. “My ultimate career goal is to one day become a supply officer on board an aircraft carrier,” she said. And with her track record, there’s a better than good chance of fulfilling that dream is right around the corner.

Northwest Navy Life story

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