First Woman to Serve as a US Submarine XO Reports for Duty

“I can’t believe it is my job to be in charge of this!”

On Nov. 12, 2022 Cowan became the executive officer (XO) of the Gold Crew of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Kentucky (SSBN 737), making her the first woman to serve as XO of a U.S. Navy submarine.

Cowan was in the first cohort of women to serve aboard submarines. After graduating from the University of Washington in 2010, she received her first set of orders to attend Nuclear Power School in Goose Creek, South Carolina, the first of many schools required for submarine officers. The Nuclear Power School curriculum covered topics like math, physics, chemistry and nuclear reactor technology, and after completing Power School she attended Naval Prototype Training Unit and Submarine Officer Basic course. Then Cowan, along with the rest of her classmates, reported to submarines across the Navy as division officers.

Cowan’s first boat was the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Maine (SSBN 741) (Blue). Over the course of three years, which included three-and-a-half strategic deterrence patrols, she served as the Main Propulsion Assistant, Damage Control Assistant and Tactical Systems Officer.

“I started in the engine room, which is where we build our foundation,” said Cowan. “It teaches officers to trust their enlisted counterparts and also have ownership of and in a watch team.”

One of Cowan’s favorite memories from her division officer tour is from a duty day, when she found herself making rounds at night as the Engineering Duty Officer and Ship’s Duty Officer. Her ship was in dry dock at the time, and as she walked around and under the nearly 600-foot submarine she thought to herself, “I can’t believe it is my job to be in charge of this!”

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