There have been many recent articles recently discussing the move of the US Navy to diversify the submarine force with females. I myself have written a few articles discussing this issue. There have been articles about sexual frustration, berthing requirements, logistical support, etc. In this article I would like to discuss a topic that not many people have spoken about- medical issues.
Currently the attached to every US submarine is one independent duty corpsman. This corpsman is a senior E-6 (First Class) or E-7 (Chief Petty Officer). This corpsman is not a doctor, nor is he a GYN. The facility he uses for medical examinations is in the Countermeasure space (about a 3″x6″ space) that is shared with the torpedo men. The corpsman does have a fabric curtain and a folding metal table for examinations.
Granted I do not expect a 1st class corpsman to have to perform GYN examinations during normal routine under ways. That would be scheduled while the submarine is in port. However, what would happen when the submarine is deployed on mission and cannot come of station for 3 months. This corpsman may have to perform some type of female medical checkup with minimal training, facilities and zero privacy.
There are areas outside of the standard 3″ launcher space that the corpsman uses that could be used for private examinations. For instance the Wardroom could be locked up and the corpsman could use that. However, still the entire crew would quickly pickup up on what was going on. I have had an in grown toe nail before and the entire crew found out!
Submariners also routinely bring up the problem of sanitation and female napkins. Here is the issue and I’m not sure how this is going to be addressed. Currently all submarines have a sanitation pump. The only way to get rid of “poop” is to use the sanitation pump or to directly blow the sanitation tanks into the water. Like any type of pumps, there are strainers and filters. Routinely these things get caught in these strainers and they have to be cleaned (hair combs, iPods, headphones, etc). Because of this, everything that enters the sanitation system must dissolve in water. Therefore, female sanitation napkins cannot be introduced into this system.
The other solution is to throw them away in the trash. But since the US naval submarine force is globally deployed and underwater for long periods of time, they cannot hold onto their trash. Other countries submarine forces do hold onto their trash since they don’t go underway for long periods. The US Submarine force has to compact their trash into steel bins and sink it under the sub. Compacting trash is a nasty job (much like cleaning the sanitation strainer) and requires people to go through the trash. Therefore female napkins cannot be just put into the trash.
These two issues I have not heard much discussion on. I do not know they will be solved. It is going to be very interesting to see how they play out.