CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) — The perception of a frigate Sailor goes back to centuries past when rough and tumble men plied the seas in defense of our country in tall-masted sailing ships.
This visage offers outsiders the chance to imagine that a little bit of the all-male, do-it-yourself "old Navy" still exists in today's guided-missile frigate in the midst of a constantly evolving, technological fleet of today.
For the most part, these ideas aren't wrong. The frigate life isn't an easy one. Frigate Sailors have to grow a thick skin and find ways to persevere in any adverse situation. Where this idea parts from reality is that while all the enlisted crew and most of the officers are male, a handful of female officers not only work aboard the last guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59), but lead its tough-as-nails crew through any situation the sea may throw at them.
"It's an end of an era in a lot of ways as far as all-male crews and frigates," said Lt. Sarah Camarena, operations officer on board Kauffman. "I feel privileged to be a part of that experience because it's something that other female surface warfare officers are never going to get to experience."
Camarena previously served on board the guided-missile destroyer USS O'Kane (DDG 77), with an integrated crew of males and females, for two years before coming to Kauffman. She said that outside of adjusting to the culture of a new crew and platform, nothing, not even the enormous gender gap, jarred her during the transition.
"This is one of the most professional, respectful and courteous crews I have ever served with," said Camarena. "It's how they treat everyone regardless of gender."
According to Camarena and her counterparts, the professionalism doesn't come from old time chivalry where a gentleman would pay his due respect to a lady. Rather, it comes from the same mission oriented mindset that puts the women frigate Sailors on an equal level of toughness as the men.
"Older women always ask if it's hard 'being a lady' on a ship," said Ensign Renee Brilhante, electronic warfare officer on board Kauffman. "It really isn't because we're all here to do our job and we are filling a vital role in the ship. The Navy has evolved so much that we're not really breaking any new molds."
Even though being in the minority on Kauffman doesn't affect their performance, the fact that they are among the last to serve on an all-male ship isn't lost on Kauffman's female officers.
"I've talked to a lot of older guys who have bragging rights from being on the last this or that, and I'm excited that I'll have those bragging rights one day," said Brilhante.
The number of U.S. Navy ships with all-male crews, to include certain submarines, patrol craft and guided-missile destroyers, become fewer and fewer every year. With Kauffman's upcoming decommissioning, this type of manning comes one ship closer to extinction.
The Navy heading in this direction can only be a good thing for future generations, explained Camarena.
"What we're experiencing today, in this greatest Navy the world has ever seen, is the opening up of more opportunities to women. This opportunity for women will make our Navy stronger and more well-rounded for everyone," said Camarena. "I hope it continues going in this direction."
For more news from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.