Love Boats

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Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro / U.S. Navy

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Krystal Way patrols the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island as Sailors and Marines man the rails while the ship departs from San Francisco Fleet Week 2012.

A retired Navy captain is sounding an alarm over women serving on warships.

“We can’t have both chastity and mixed-sex complements,” Kevin Eyer argues in October’s Proceedings, the professional naval journal published by the independent U.S. Naval Institute. “So what’s the priority—a combat-ready Fleet or gender diversity?”

This is a touchy issue for sailors and admirals alike. Eyer says the bawdy times that male sailors used to enjoy in far-flung ports have been replaced:

…even despite the Navy’s ever-increasing efforts to legislate morality (or perhaps because of it) sailors have discovered new ways in which to be, well, sailors. Over time, they have largely replaced those historic foreign dalliances with that which is more expedient and close at hand: sex with their shipmates.

Eyer details changes that he says have taken place over the past 20 years in the sea service, ever since women were permitted to serve aboard warships. “Look at the sheer mass of evidence: Record numbers of commanding officers, executive officers, and command master chiefs are being sacked for personal misconduct,” he writes. “If they who have so very much to lose aren’t being good, how can we expect our sailors to behave?”

Eyer says the Navy dismisses the significance of such firings, saying they represent only about 1% of commanders, in line with historic norms. “In fact, the statistic only holds true if one calculates the numbers by including every billet marked as `command’ or `command-equivalent,’ either at sea or ashore. Then you get more than 2,000 `commanders’ to use for the equation,” he writes. “But if the math is done using, for example, only fully integrated combat ships, it turns out that correct number is closer to 10% CO firings, which certainly does seem significant.”

While commanders can be sacked for such sexual transgressions, lower-ranking sailors and younger officers, Eyers says, handle it with winks and nods. “A new sort of `Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach has become the de facto law of the land,” he maintains.

The piece has triggered the expected fireworks.

“As a current department head in a [destroyer] I can say that from my small perspective it is absolutely true and an absolute problem,” a young officer comments. “As for Proceedings, congratulations for having the moral courage to publish this controversial article.”

“This article is fundamentally flawed. Relationships between people on the same ship are not against regulations,” a second commenter opines. “The author has been off of the waterfront since 2007. I am curious how he has arrived at the conclusion of “widespread sexual congress” from his cubicle way off in gray beard land. Frankly, I am embarrassed USNI published this article.”