Only six women nationwide have been chosen from this year’s graduating class of future naval officers to enter the Navy’s highly competitive submarine force – and a 21-year-old Riverhead graduate is one of them.
Amanda Gallo will be one of the first women in United States history to serve on a submarine, just five years after the Navy began allowing female officers to do so.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Gallo, who graduated from Riverhead High School in 2012. “I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
Gallo was offered admission into the Navy’s submarine force last month, after a grueling application process that ended in a day-long series of interviews with top-level Navy officers in Washington D.C.
It’s a goal she has been pursuing since she was still in Riverhead High School, when her NJROTC instructor first informed her that the Navy had finally begun allowing female officers on submarines in 2010.
“I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do,” Gallo said. “It’s a really elite group of people. They’re all dedicated to their work and their teammates.”
The Navy has only integrated about 50 female officers into its submarine community since it reversed its all-male policy in 2010 – a tiny fraction of the submarine force as a whole, which consists of more than 50,000 sailors and officers.
The Navy recently announced that it will soon begin allowing enlisted female sailors to serve aboard submarines as well.
This year, only six female officer candidates were chosen to join the submarine force after they graduate in May. “It’s insanely competitive for females,” Gallo said. “I knew the odds were against me. It’s such a small pool.”
That’s because the submarine force has for so long remained exclusively male. Integration not only poses logistical problems, such as cramped showering facilities that need to be shared by both genders, but it also challenges long-standing attitudes toward women in a very male-dominated Navy culture.
Gallo recalled a conversation with one of the first female officers admitted to the force, who had a nasty encounter with a sailor ranking beneath her.
“He told her, ‘You’re a woman, I’m not listening to you. You can’t tell me what to do,’” Gallo said.
She hopes that those attitudes will start fading by the time she joins the force in 2017. “I don’t really see gender,” she said. “I think our generation is changing that. If you’re a woman and you want to do something, you go and get it.”
And that’s exactly what Gallo has done. She found out last month after her interviews that, despite the odds, she had snagged one of only six spots for female candidates graduating next year.
“It’s overwhelming,” Gallo said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
She was helped along by her major in nuclear engineering, a field of study that is particularly useful for someone aspiring to a career on a nuclear-powered submarine.
She also was part of a team of scientists at Brookhaven National Lab last summer, where she helped research materials that will make nuclear reactors safer in the event of an accident.
But mostly, Gallo says her admission into the submarine force is a result of sheer determination. “My whole life has been leading up to this,” she said.
She knew from a young age that she wanted to join the military, especially after the events of September 11. Her hard work in Riverhead High School’s NJROTC program earned her a $180,000 Navy scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she graduates in May.
And now, she is poised to make history as one of the first female officers to serve on a Navy submarine.
“I am definitely an adventure seeker,” she said. “If the opportunity arises to apply for the space program, I’m all over it.”