In the past two decades, women in the Navy have broken gender barriers. They serve on ships. They fly fighter jets. They plunge into the sea on submarines. All these Navy jobs, once only for men, are now commonly filled with women.
But one notable job is still men only: Navy SEAL.
A Pentagon panel last week said that could change in three years. It’s welcome news for women like Katy Walters.
“They are opening it up to us,” she said. “They are giving us the opportunity. Let’s take it.”
NewsChannel 3 asked Katy and six other seven women to participate in an experiment. On just two days’ notice, tackle some of the fitness standards for Navy Special Operations and Navy Special Warfare assignments.
Katy, 35, is a nurse. Joining her:
Beth Barnes, 34,a lawyer.
Ginny Cohen, 39, business owner.
Cassidy O’Connell, 29, staffing consultant.
Jennie Verry, 40, bank executive.
Alexis Doane, 22, bartender.
In the water, we measured the women against standards of Navy Special Operations aviation rescue swimmer. It’s the only of the special-ops try-outs that allows a standard swimming stroke, a technique all the women knew. Five hundred yards in 12 minutes.
Out of the water first, Katy, in 8 minutes 34 seconds. That’s 3 ½ minutes faster than required. If it looks like she’s here to prove something, she is.
“I wanted to go through boot camp,” she said.
She is the only of the seven women who tried to join the military. But when she told the Marines about her surgically repaired knee, they passed on her.
“I’ve had two knee surgeries, but I can still do this, even at 35,” she said.
Today, she showed up to prove the Marines made a mistake.
“I love pushing myself. I love being with other people. And helping us push each other. And just gutting it out.”
Click the images for animated examples of the physical requirements:
Cassidy is out of the bay next, at 9:04. Then, Alexis at 11:15.
The rest all finished, but beyond the rescue-swimmer time limit.
Next station, push-ups. The minimum for most special-warfare jobs: 50 in two minutes. Five of the seven women hit that mark easily. And when we switched to sit-ups – the minimum is 50 in two minutes for all assignments –all seven passed.
Then the last of the gym exercises is pull-ups. Rescue-swimmer candidates need at least four while SEAL hopefuls must nail 10.
Alexis, Katy and Cassidy passed for rescue swimmer.
Ginny muscled six, enough Navy Diver, EOD, or special-warfare combatant craft crewman, or SWCC. That’s a SEAL-support assignment.
And Beth topped out at 10. That’s full SEAL standard.
The final event, a mile and a half run.
Navy diver and EOD candidates have to do it in 12:30. Six of the seven women easily hit this mark.
Rescue swimmers and SWCC candidates have to run it in 12 minutes. No problem for Jennie, Ginny, Beth and Alexis.
But SEAL candidates have to finish in 10:30. That’s a mile every seven minutes.
And Katy crushed that. Her mile-and-a-half was done in 9:33, fast enough hit to be what the Navy calls “competitive” SEAL standards.
“I was just doing my best,” she said. “That’s what I try to do every time I work out. Compete against myself and push myself as hard as I can. Every single time.”
In the end, several women could’ve passed for some Navy Special Operations jobs. But no one eclipsed the most demanding standard, Navy SEAL.
“I’m not sure I have what it takes to be a SEAL,” Ginny said. “But I did enjoy pushing the limits.”
Some in the group agree women could be SEALs, others aren’t as sure. But all are certain women are capable of more in the military than they get to do now. And they say, if this group – mostly mothers in their 30s and 40s – could finish in sight of the standards, then there’s no doubt to them women can be warriors.
Katy said, “I can’t wait until 2016 to see what’s going to come of this.”