The U.S. Defense Department recently announced it intends to open 14,000 more military job opportunities to women. But in an environment that has traditionally been male-dominated, what incentives could make more women want to join the military?
Lieutenant Megan Donnelly is one of the 770 women on board the Abraham Lincoln. She is one of the officers who "drove" the 97,500 ton carrier, as the crew puts it, out of the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz on February 14.
She says the job is a major challenge.
"Managing 15-20 other people on the bridge at a time, it's my job to manage all of them for the captain so that he doesn't have to and can focus on the big picture," said Donnelly.
Lieutenant Donnelly is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. She is trained as a Navy pilot, but is serving as a bridge officer as part of her career rotation. She has also won a Navy-wide award for her leadership, the first woman on her ship to earn the honor.
Lieutenant Nicole Rosales is the ship's only female physician. She says being in the Navy has been very rewarding.
"Not only did they pay for my medical school, but provided me with the opportunity to serve on an aircraft carrier and to serve in various different military hospitals in the United States," said Rosales.
Rosales sees her naval career as an opportunity to serve the country as well as see the world. She also welcomes the Defense Department's announcement about opening more job opportunities for women, because she believes the Navy needs more of a female perspective.
The Lincoln's enlisted women have their own reasons for joining. Most of them are high school graduates and are mainly seeking the means to provide for their families. Amber Mentzer wants to save some money during her 4-year enlistment and then leave the Navy, but not because she is dissatisfied.
"If you come in with a positive attitude and do what you need to do, you will be fine," said Mentzer. "I don't have a problem with the workload, everyone gets treated equally."
Mentzer wants to go to college after she leaves the Navy. Ingry Pimentel, on the other hand, intends to stay in.
"I am going to make a career out of it," said Pimentel. "I've been in it for about 8 months now. I plan to make a career out of it so far…I like it."
These four women had no major complaints about gender discrimination. But Lieutenant Donnelly, who has been in the navy for 10 years, has a broader perspective.
"I've never really had a problem," noted Donnelly. "I'm sure that before I joined, it was a lot harder than it is now, but there have been very few people that I have found are deliberately not supportive."
Each of these women joined the Navy for different reasons. But they have one thing in common, being away from home and family for months at a time. They all agree, though, that the Navy has a good support system, both for the deployed and for their families back home.