One of my trepidations in publishing this “book” in a series of posts is doing so without an editor. i profess i am not a good editor. Captain Francis J. Boyle has reviewed the earlier chapters and found numerous errors of mine, and i hope to have him review the remaining chapters before i publish them here. But i know i need a professional editor before this is published in book form. i apologize for any errors which i have not corrected.
This is a story of what happened quite a while ago. It is told from the perspective of the executive officer of the USS Yosemite (AD 19) when she was the first U.S. Navy ship to spend extended out of port time at sea with women as part of the ship’s complement.
I was that executive officer. I reported aboard 0830, Thursday, August 11, 1983. This is my story.
This tale is limited to Yosemite’s deployment when she departed her home port of Mayport (Jacksonville), Florida, September 9, 1983 until she returned, April 26, 1984. I have used my daily notes from calendars and spiral notebooks I kept at the time, invaluable input from shipmates during that tour, the ship’s logs, the daily “Plan of the Day” information sheets, letters between LT Noreen Leahy and her new husband LTJG Jim Leahy and the summaries of LTJG Emily Baker’s (now Emily Black) letters to her parents as well as those between my brand new wife Maureen and myself. I have relied extensively on recall of these and other officers: LTGJ Linda Schlesinger (retired as a captain), LT Sharon Carrasco (now Sharon Friendly), LT Frank Kerrigan, and especially Captain Francis J. Boyle, the commanding officer, in addition to sailors who are members of the Facebook group “USS Yosemite (A.D-19) I.O. cruise 83-84.”
You might say this is my written record of oral history.
It was an important time for the Navy.
Women and the Navy
Women have long been a part of U.S. Navy history. But the move toward equality and full opportunity for women in all facets of our Navy began after I was commissioned in 1968. The Navy and the world was changing.
In 1972 the pilot program for assignment of officer and enlisted women to ships was initiated on board USS Sanctuary (AH-17).
In 1976, eighty-one women became midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy.
In 1978 Congress approved a change to Title 10 USC Section 6015 to permit the Navy to assign women to sea duty billets on support and noncombatant ships. The Surface Warfare community was opened to women that year as well. In 1979, the first woman obtained her Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification.
In 1979, officer and enlisted women began to be assigned to Navy ships. The ships were mostly tenders or repair ships, which had limited time at sea. Also in 1979, Ensign Deborah A. Loewer who had been at the top of her class at the Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer School after receiving her commission from Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, R.I. was one of the first women to report aboard the USS Yosemite (AD 19). She later earned her two stars and served as Vice Commander, Military Sealift Command.
In 1980, fifty-four female midshipmen in that first class graduated and were commissioned from the Naval Academy.
During this initial integration of women into sea duty, tenders began deploying to Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Chagos atoll chain almost smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The concept was for the capital ships to come into Diego Garcia’s lagoon where the anchored tenders would provide maintenance, repair, and other services. This put women on ships really going to sea, not on ships sitting in port on a stateside Navy base, but going places where Navy women on ships had not previously gone.
The Yosemite’s Adventure
After my reporting aboard, Yosemite transited the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, arriving and anchoring in Diego Garcia, “The Footprint of Freedom” in October.
Captain Francis J. Boyle, Yosemite’s commanding officer recommended to the chain of command she transit north to Masirah, Oman to be closer to ships in Battle Group Alfa. After ten days in Diego Garcia, the recommendation was approved, and Yosemite was sent north, anchoring off the island of Masirah, Oman where ships of the USS Ranger (CVN 61) Battle Group would come alongside and receive the equivalent of a two-week restricted availability in four days.
The women of the crew and the wardroom performed extremely well. Their contributions made the deployment and my two-year tour a success. The Yosemite received a letter of commendation as a member of Battle Group Alfa (the Ranger) Battle Group, something rare if not unique for a repair ship. She was also named the most outstanding repair facility, ship or shore of any kind, in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. This is the success story of the Yosemite for which both the men and women sailors and officers should be credited.
Some Thoughts on my Memoir
The story is also about how this executive officer dealt with the tour as “number two” in my penultimate Navy assignment and my last operational tour.
A number of enlisted personnel also gave me input, a valuable look from a much different angle. Their recollections of the deployment, which I collected gave me roughly three-quarters through the first draft, gave me pause. Their recounting required me to consider, as Bob Seger sang in “Against the Wind,” “what to leave in and what to leave out.” For those who are not familiar with Navy ships, they may not be familiar with the difference between an officer and an enlisted perspective.
I was not blind or so innocent to believe nothing was going on between men and women on board. I knew how sailors could figure out how to make anything happen if they wanted something to happen. I also knew they were much more cavalier about adhering to regulations than officers.
Executive officers are four levels about what is happening on the deck plates: department heads, division officers, chiefs, and leading petty officers are between them and the sailors on those deck plates. The XO’s focus is on the ship’s mission, her daily operation running smoothly, coordinating the operation of each of the departments and special staff, and most of all ensuring he or she reflects the demands, the desires of the commanding officer, even the way the XO projects his or her image to support the CO at all times. So even though I suspected there was fraternization occurring, it was not easily detected , and I could not have stopped it without taken draconian actions.
What happened in the 225 days, just shy of eight months, happened thirty-five years ago as I write. The recollections of all of those who have provided inputs to this story have been distorted by the passage of time. This includes mine. Our recollections from three decades ago did not always agree. I evaluated our inputs with my notes and my own recollections to determine to the best of my ability what actually happened.
This old salt was surprised with what ensued after I reported aboard. What I experienced convinced me there is a right way and wrong way to bring about change.
The women aboard Yosemite during my time as executive officer proved fully capable of handling duties at sea. During this period when the program was under negative scrutiny from the senior bureaucracy of the Navy and the vast majority of male officers and sailors, the women enthusiastically went to work. There were problems just like there were problems when Navy ships only had men on board, just different problems. Ignoring all of the political maneuvering from those who wanted women to have the right to go to sea and those who were dead set against such a policy, Yosemite men and women rose to the challenge and proved it could be done. Successfully.
The tour also was when my final attempt to be selected for command at sea. My final career goal did not reach fruition. Yet, my tour aboard Yosemite as her executive officer was one of the most rewarding of the eleven tours I had during my twenty-two years of service.
This is my story as best I remember it, or to paraphrase my longtime friend and shipmate JD Waits from our USS Okinawa (LPH-3) tours:
“This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.