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Challenge and Determination

In the face of physical hardship and institutional barriers, the first women Navy divers were determined. They struggled with equipment sized for larger bodies and an organization that was not always welcoming.



If you ever uttered the words, ‘I quit,’ you could never take them back, and there were plenty of eyes waiting to see me fail. I didn’t want them asking less of women, for anything.”

Donna Tobias




“Being a female Navy diver has to do with perseverance. You get tired of being told you can’t go on some job because you might get hurt.”

Linda Hubbell






“You need to be strong. You need to be dedicated. You need to practice. You need to be serious about it.”

Karen Kohanowich






“It’s a matter of determination rather than skills. It helps to have someone behind you telling you that you can’t do it. To work in a man’s world you have to have an awful, awful lot of patience.”

Mary Bonnin





“I was getting so tired, I think I was in bed about 7 o’clock every night. But I knew I was going to finish [Navy scuba school] because I couldn’t see myself dropping out.”

Kati Garner





“My diving class started out with 20 diving candidates of whom I was the only woman. By the end of the first two weeks we were down to thirteen. I survived this attrition by smiling the whole way through physical training and working myself to death.”

Sue Trukken




“[My detailer] on the phone was offering me a job in Hawaii as an assistant biology technical officer. Only catch, I had to go to Navy diving school. Then he informed me there was one other bit of news that went with this diving school stuff. I would be the first female officer to ever go through. My Dad was a Navy Seabee qualified in underwater demolition, and I knew what Navy diving school meant. Gulp.”

Linda Hubbell



“…it’s very hard work… but it’s something that if you really want…in your life you just go for that. And so once you work that hard and you do it…you become…part of an elite group of people…”

René Hernandez





“Diving and submarine duty were part of the job that I had to do. To make a naval career in diving medicine, I had to become qualified in submarines. A dive school classmate found a submarine commanding officer willing to have a woman undersea medical officer to care for his crew. Because I was willing to go down in the bilges, through sonar domes, crawl up inside a missile and learn whatever the crew was willing to teach… [I] broke down any barriers the crew may have had when I initially appeared on deck.”

Marie Knafelc


Published: Thu Nov 03 10:45:57 EDT 2016