U.S. Navy's Submarine Service Gets First Female XO

Bio photo courtesy USN

Published Dec 5, 2022 5:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy recently appointed its first female executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Amber Cowan, who is now serving as the second-in-command for the Gold Crew of nuclear ballistic missile sub USS Kentucky

Cowan entered the Navy in 2010 after graduating from the University of Washington, and she intended to be an aviator. However, her eyesight held her back, and she was assigned to the Navy's Nuclear Power School instead - just in time for service's decision to open up the submarine service to female officers.

On completing her training, Cowan joined the Ohio-class ballistic missile sub USS Maine, serving in the engine room and as tactical systems officer. She transferred to the attack sub USS Texas in 2017, where she served as the engineering officer, then rotated ashore at Submarine Forces Pacific Fleet for duty as the command's radiological controls officer. 

Cowan's crew aboard USS Kentucky is one of 28 integrated operational submarine crews across the Navy. The "silent service" has steadily added female servicemembers and retrofitted subs' berthing to accommodate separate womens' quarters, and it plans to have 33 integrated crews by the end of the decade. It's a good recruiting strategy: nuclear subs need lots of technical talent to operate, and 20 percent of Navy servicemembers are female.

“If you are good with team success, the submarine force is for you as well. It’s going to challenge you in ways you won’t find anywhere else on the planet," Cowan said in a statement.

The Navy opened up submarine duty to female servicemembers in 2011, and it has allowed female enlisted servicemembers to convert their careers to the submarine service since 2015. The results of those decisions are showing up in leadership today: earlier this year, Master Chief Angela Koogler was promoted to chief of the boat (the most senior onboard enlisted position) for the nuclear ballistic missile sub USS Louisiana