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We’re Just Sailors ‘Like Everybody Else on Board,’ Women in Swedish Navy Say

Associated Press

Ens. Karin Berglund explained as she navigated this Swedish missile carrier through a treacherous Baltic archipelago that she’s just a sailor, “like everybody else on board.”

“I’ve always been interested in sailing and the sea, and I couldn’t find anything I wanted to do more than go into the navy,” said the 25-year-old officer, seated before a bank of radar screens and navigation maps on the bridge. “I don’t see myself as a woman in the navy. I’m just one of the crew.”

She is one of three women--and the only woman officer--in the 32-member crew of the HMS Stockholm, a 330-ton corvette serving as the flagship of Sweden’s hard-pressed anti-submarine warfare unit.

For a nation once considered a leader of the sexual revolution, professional military service for women came late. Sweden’s officer corps were opened to women only in 1980.

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Military life still attracts few women, and many of them use their military training in technical professions to move into higher-paid civilian careers.

Defense Ministry figures say 114 women are among the 16,000 officers in the standing and reserve services of all branches. The highest ranking officer is Col. Anne-Marie Goransson, a surgeon in the medical corps.

Women are not drafted--men are--but have served since early this century in auxiliary units as cooks, cleaners or drivers. More than 50,000 women now belong to these units.

“Having girls on board has changed the way the men behave. They’re much more civilized than they were,” said Cmdr. Lennart Danielsson, who has women in his compliment for the first time this year.

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Unlike many ships, no pinups grace the walls of the enlisted crew quarters, where two women sleep among 12 men. There are no curtains or special facilities, but the women don’t seem to mind.

“It took a week or so to get used to, but then it was so natural,” said Sgt. Ewa Kroog, a 20-year-old signal operator.

Kroog said she adjusted to a male environment during basic training and in her signal course, when she was bunked in a room with five other women in an otherwise all-male barracks.

“Of course the first week you took the towel into the shower with you, but after that you don’t think about it. You get used to it very fast,” she said.

Once on board ship, she said, “It was the guys who had problems. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to go into the navy. The guys didn’t beg to have girls here.”

Officers normally sleep in two-person cabins, which could have been problematic for Berglund, her skipper said. Danielsson assigned her to a four-bunk cabin to avoid gossip.

Shipboard romances are out, said Kroog, who has a boyfriend on another ship. “It must be all business, otherwise it wouldn’t work down here.”

The navy and air force have been more successful absorbing women than the army, which issued a report last year that women were performing badly in the artillery and engineering corps. But they often do better than men in services requiring technical ability, the report said.

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The report recommended that women remain barred from the cavalry, armored corps and infantry, which it said were physically too demanding. The air force has no women pilots.

“There is something unnatural about young girls lifting heavy gun carriages or running with heavy weapons,” the army commander, Lt. Gen. Erik Bengtsson, said in a newspaper interview last year--and later came under heavy criticism for saying it.


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