Huge carrier's crew reflects Navy's striving for diversity

Although most officers are white, minorities account for almost 40%

War In Iraq

March 30, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN -The largest warship in the world, now sitting in the Persian Gulf, is a nuclear-powered floating city and a moving microcosm of the U.S. Navy's efforts to increase diversity in its ranks.

With roughly 5,200 people on board, a broad cultural and ethnic mix might be considered a given. But sailors here with more than 20 years of service say they remember when the typical carrier crew was overwhelmingly white and male.

Because of a major push for equal opportunity in the 1980s, the mix began to change.

Of the total crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln, roughly 63 percent are white, 14 percent African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian-Pacific Islander, 3 percent Native American and 2 percent "other." About 10 percent are women, less than in the average civilian workplace. Almost 90 percent of the officers are white.

Still, in the ship's many divisions are people and groups bucking the trends.

Evelyn Banks, the senior enlisted sailor in the air wing, is the first black woman to reach the rank of command master chief petty officer in an air wing and the ninth black woman to reach the rank in the Navy.

In the reactor department, which powers the ship, purifies water and generates electricity and steam for the catapults that launch aircraft, a sexual revolution of sorts is being waged.

While 37 of the 440 people in the department are women, they account for roughly 40 percent of the 30 reactor officers. Six of the nine division officers, the equivalent of corporate mid-level managers, are women.

These highly visible, fast-advancing women call themselves "the reactor chicks."

"We're sort of an anomaly," said Lt. Eileen Kane, 25, a Naval Academy graduate and division officer for the reactor department's electronic controls section. "But as the Navy has built up the nuclear community, they've really tried to encourage women, and we're very competitive from the time we come in."

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