source GAIA package: Origin key: Sx_MilitaryTimes_M6201410303170013 imported at Fri Jan 8 18:18:15 2016

Women are officially joining the elite ranks of the brown-water Navy, leaving Navy SEALs as the sole Navy branch to bar females under combat exclusion rules.

As Congress raised no objections in the 30 working days since the Navy sent lawmakers notification of its intent to open the units, there are now 267 open positions for female officers and enlisted in the Coastal Riverine Force, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel told Navy Times on Friday. The move marks progress on Navy leadership's push to expand opporutunities for women across the service, from the sub force and diving to now the riverine Navy.

"Our continuing effort to maximize all professional opportunities for women in the Navy and Marine Corps takes another step with the opening the Coastal Riverine Force to female officers and sailors," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement. "We consistently strive to ensure all sailors and Marines, regardless of gender, have a path toward a successful military career. This not only makes us better war-fighters, but it ensures our Navy and Marine Corps remains the finest expeditionary fighting force in the world."

Sixteen women have completed the Riverine Combat Skills Course since the first class of female sailors participated in fall 2012, and 13 of them have been selected to serve in units, confirmed Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel.

Nine of them had been administratively assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 2's Delta Company at Portsmouth, Va., in preparation to formally join the riverine's boat ranks, considered a front-line combat unit by the Pentagon.

All nine have now received their new enlisted classifications and are now clear for assignment to boats and deployment, the release said. They're currently in Cherry Point, N.C., in the midst of pre-deployment training, according to a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command spokeswoman.

"Since these women are already assigned to CRS 2 Delta and have completed the required riverine training, there will be no time lag between congressional approval and report dates," Barbara Wilcox said.

The Navy's two other riverine units — Squadron 4 in Virginia Beach, Va., and Squadron 3 in San Diego — are next. Squadron 3 has a company deployed and Squadron 4 just returned from deployment. Once they've completed post-deployment procedures, they'll begin integrating women.

"With the complex and intense training required of riverine sailors, and in preparation for the lifting of the women in combat exclusion, both squadrons are implementing plans to incorporate women into the riverine company as soon as feasible," Wilcox said.

The Navy opened riverine training to women in 2012 even though women couldn't be assigned to the boats. When the Defense Department lifted the women's combat-exclusion rule in early 2013, the possibilities opened up.

Of the 16 women who have completed Riverine Combat Skills, four have gone on to earn their riverine crewman qualification and five are qualified riverine security team members, according to NECC. The complete riverine curriculum is rounded out by the Riverine Unit Level Leader course.

The riverines are the latest group to begin allowing women as the Navy continues opening ground combat billets to female sailors.

The first women to serve aboard attack submarines will report to the subs Virginia and Minnesota early next year. Submarine Force commander Vice Adm. Michael Connor has said he will next select two Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based attack subs to welcome women in 2016.

Naval special warfare, the last community to ban women, is studying possibilities for integration into the SEALs. A report is expected this summer, and if the Navy finds it feasible, women could begin reporting to boot camp in fall 2015 with the intention of heading to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., the following spring.

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