In 1979, the Navy qualified its first group of female officers to serve in the surface warfare officer (SWO) community, beginning a trend that would eventually allow women to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Navy.
Now, more than three decades later, Lt. Anya S. Kinoshita serves as an Anti-Surface/Sub-Surface (ASW/SUW) Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) with Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, Sea Combat Division, in San Diego California. She is one of many females charged with advancing the warfare knowledge of the Surface Navy community and Sailors.
“When I was 11 years old, I was looking through a magazine and saw a picture of an Admiral. It was then that I decided to join the Navy,” said Kinoshita. “When I began my journey in the Navy I had fifty dollars and a lot of hope that I could change my life. I didn’t know how to swim, never stepped foot on a ship, and never saw the ocean. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to expand my horizons. It was a very good decision by an 11 year old!”
Very early on in her career, Kinoshita encountered obstacles associated with her gender. In stellar fashion, she recognized these challenges and used them as motivation.
“My first challenge was accepting that I wasn’t allowed to serve on submarines. Of all movies, I had watched Down Periscope and decided the character Lt. Lake was awesome; I wanted to do her job. I remember the recruiter telling me I scored high enough on my ASVAB to do any job… except jobs on submarines, because they were closed to women,” recalled Kinoshita. “It was hard to accept that I qualified for jobs on submarines with the exception of my gender.”
The next challenge Kinoshita remembers was at boot camp. “I was issued a purse and told to carry it [while wearing] my whites,” Kinoshita said. ”I never used a purse before the Navy and it felt wrong to be forced to carry one. I still have the purse to this day as a reminder that innocent expectations can be a disguise for gender bias.”
In a society that is still primarily a male dominated workforce, expanding diversity and eliminating gender bias are top priorities for the Navy. The Surface Navy is leading that charge with the highest percentage of females, just over 20% compared to the Navy average of 17%, serving in the surface warfare community.
“It is not a new experience for me to be working in a male dominated field. I enlisted originally as a Cryptologist, earned my degree in engineering, and now I’m a SWO as an ASW/SUW WTI,” said Kinoshita. “At the time of my commissioning, [operational fields for women] were limited to SWO, naval aviator, or naval flight officer. My choice to become a SWO was easy because I am petrified of heights and did NOT want to be on airplanes!”
Throughout her career, Kinoshita said she has frequently been asked why she, a woman, would join the service or been mistaken for a military family member.
“If I attend a technical briefing, sometimes people will say, ’You’re pretty good at this for a girl.’” she said. “The biggest modern day challenge concerns the preconceived notions of what women ‘should’ be or do. Through our words, we communicate expectations concerning the way a woman should live her life and being in the military is a unique choice. When these expectations do not exist, women will have truly achieved equality.”
Reflecting on early experiences, and how the atmosphere has changed, Kinoshita acknowledges the major shift away from gender bias during her career. It is a step in the right direction toward inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity.
She recalled a time when she and an Ensign were having a conversation about tactics. “He said, ‘That’s amazing that you know all this.’ I jokingly asked, ‘Is it because I’m a girl?’” Kinoshita said. “He stared in the distance and said, ’I didn’t even think about that. You are a girl, but why would that be a factor?’”
“Gender bias doesn’t enter the mind of the newest generation of SWOs. These minds are the future leaders of the Surface Navy and we need them. Because of this, I see a future Surface Navy where women are making headlines because they succeeded in a position instead of achieving a position. A future where my dream of becoming a destroyer squadron commander or Admiral, is the norm, because why would being a woman be a factor?” said Kinoshita.
There have been tremendous equality strides made over the last century. Women have served aboard auxiliary ships beginning in 1978, and on combatant ships beginning in 1994, and their role in the Navy continues to expand. In 2012, three female officers became the first to receive their submarine warfare qualification. By 2014, Michelle Janine Howard had risen to become the first woman to be promoted to four-star admiral, the highest paygrade in the Navy today, and serve in the position of Vice Chief of Naval Operations. In January 2016, the armed services opened all military specialties to women, including all combat and Special Forces units.
These progressive leaps in integration, along with other modernization initiatives, mark the Navy as a leader in equal opportunity for all employees regardless of gender, race or culture.
The Navy proudly joins the nation in celebrating Women's History Month throughout the month of March, with special recognition toward this year’s theme "Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business."