diving women

When you hear the words military divers, especially after the movie "Men of Honor", the stereotypical assumption is that they are all men. Well guess what - military women have been diving for several years. And they are being recognized for their wonderful accomplishments.

diving women
Karin Lynn, Donna Tobias and Karen Kohanowich

Mary J. Bonnin, with a career that spans 24 years, currently holds the position of Master Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy. After graduating at the top of her class (in both air and mixed gas diving), she went on to become the only woman in the US Navy to qualify as Master Diver. She has trained over 1,000 military divers and worked in ships husbandry, salvage and rescue. During her last tour she served as the leading Naval Diving Safety Authority. The Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, WA dedicated their meeting room as the Mary Bonnin room.

diving women
U.S.Navy Woman Diver

CDR Karen Kohanowich, as a Navy midshipman, supported 1000 FSW saturation dives at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit. After completing Navy Salvage and HeO2 Diving School in 1983, she served onboard USN and Canadian diving ships in the West Pacific, Caribbean, and North Atlantic. She became a NAUI instructor in 1989, and qualified as a pilot of the "Pisces IV" submersible in 1993. As an Oceanographer, she is the Navy's liaison to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coordinates ocean policy and diving issues.

diving women
Women are Divers too

CDR Bobbie Scholley has been a US Navy Diving Salvage Officer since 1983. She was the Commanding Officer of a US Navy diving and salvage ship, the Diving Officer assigned to the TWA Flight 800 recovery operation (1996) and the first woman to be the US Navy Supervisor of Diving. She is attending the National Defense University's Industrial College of the Armed Forces, upon graduation, she will be the first woman to take command of the US Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (Atlantic Fleet).

Susan Trukken was the first female special operations officer to graduate from the Naval School of Diving and Salvage in Washington DC in 1980. Darlene Iskra and Martha Gray (Herb) were next. Darlene Iskra served on five ships and commanded the USS Opportune, a diving and salvage ship. Darlene was the first woman in the Navy to command a ship, and it was a diving ship. Darlene retired in April 2000. Martha is still in the Naval Reserves.
Darlene Iskra
Darlene Iskra

There were no other female diving officers until 1981 or 1982. The Naval School of Diving and Salvage was decommissioned in May 1980. Darlene and Martha were in the last class.

Retired Navy Commander Darlene Iskra is currently a Congressional Fellow in the office of Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, where she is helping with energy and welfare, as well as with other legislative issues. Her 21-year career took her to assignments all over the globe, including humanitarian operations after Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Typhoon Fern in Micronesia. She is active in the Women Officers Professional Association and Women in International Security. Darlene received her master's degree in military sociology from the University of Maryland in 2002, and is now working on her PhD Additionally, Darlene holds a master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. She earned her bachelor's degree at San Francisco State University.

CAPT Marie E. Knafelc entered the Navy in 1980. Since then she has been responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of diving related illnesses, evaluating diving and life support systems, planning compression and decompression schedules for saturation divers and demonstrating a working knowledge of submarines and their related medical and psychological aspects. She is an Undersea Medial Officer with the Navy Experimental Diving Unit and qualified in scuba, mixed gas and saturation diving.

CAPT Karin Lynn joined the US Navy's Civil Engineer Corps in 1977. In 1983 she graduated from the Navy's deep-sea diving school and went on to specialize in diving and underwater systems. She has an ME in Ocean Engineering and she is head of the Navy's Ocean Facilities Program - overseeing about 250 professional military divers and ocean engineers world-wide. CAPT Lynn is an active member of the Women's Aquatic Network, the Marine Technological Society and related professional associations.

diving womenU.S. Navy Diver Peggy Rowan, who was assigned to Naval Ocean Systems Center, Point Loma when this photo was taken. Peggy was a Navy Diver for 10 years, having attended 2nd Class Dive School in Coronado, California, in 1983, and on to 1st Class Dive School, in Panama City, Florida, in 1985.

Donna M. Tobias was the first woman to become a US Navy Deep Sea (hard hat) Diver in 1975. She worked on search and salvage operations, underwater repairs of surface ships and submarines, and on the conversion of two YFN (barges) into diving and salvage liftcraft. She also served as a submarine escape instructor, hyperbaric chamber operator and a SCUBA instructor at a Navy SCUBA diving school . In the late 1970's she participated in leading-edge hyperbaric treatments for medical purposes and the evaluation of one-person portable recompression chambers.

diving women
Donna Tobias "Getting Dressed"

Thirteen military women have been inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. Visit the Hall of Fame to learn more.

More Military Women Divers

Kati Garner was the first woman to complete and graduate from the U.S. Navy Diving School, SCUBA, in 1973 at the 32nd St. Naval Satation in San Diego California. After graduation she worked at the Water Survival Department at North Island Air Station on Coronado and at the Marine Mammal Training Program.

diving women
Kati Garner "resting'".

Kati was featured in Hillary Houser's book "Women in Sports - SCUBA Diving". Here are some brief excerpts: "It was impulse that led Nancy ("Kati") Garner to fame and recognition as the first woman to go through and graduate from the United States Navy Diving School. In this traditional male-only world, even some of the strongest men can't make it. That's how tough it is. But Kati did, and her feat cannot be attributed to muscles or physique, because this blue-eyed girl is only 5'3" tall and weighs 115 pounds "Punk," as they called her, ran five miles, did 500 flutter kicks, and swam a minimum of one mile anytime she was directed to, along with the toughest and roughest of her fellow students...

.... The first Tuesday of the diving school training is known traditionally in the school as "Black Tuesday," and for good reason: "They give you a pretty rough hour of calisthenics. They got us out there and made us run after every exercise, they wore us out, and then they had us play leapfrog with about 23 guys. They were standing around with their legs straight, their rear ends sticking up, and boy, were they hard to get over!" Another ordeal of Black Tuesday was the qualifying swim. For that test, the students had to swim the length of an Olympic size pool underwater, taking only three breaths. On top of this, they had to swim about a quarter mile. Five men dropped out at this point...

diving women
Kati Garner "masked".

...The final week of the scuba school consisted of actual diving projects in San Diego Bay. The culmination was a 120-foot dive into the cold. Kati suffered an ear squeeze, no doubt due to congestion brought about by her illness, but she didn't attach much importance to it. She had won her diploma."

CDR Marianne Molchan: With over 20 years of recreational and NOAA diving experience Marianne attended a Basic Dive Officer course at Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in 1994, qualifying on the MK 20 and MK 21 dive equipment. She was the Diving Officer for Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 Det 522, supervising divers on salvage projects and exercises for 3 years then returned to NDSTC and Pensacola for MK 16 (re-breather) and Demolition School. She was OIC of an Ordnance Clearance Detachment for EOD Mobile Unit 17 (Whidbey Island) 1997-1999. Prior to joining the Navy dive community she was a NOAA Dive Officer and Divemaster aboard the NOAA Ship RAINIER 1976-1979 and installed tide gauges for NOAA throughout the Eastern Pacific 1979-1982. She is currently President of Molchan Marine Sciences, an oceanographic consulting company in Connecticut and a CDR in the Naval Reserve assigned to a Military Sealift Command Europe 101 Unit. In their spare time, she and her husband, Ric Walker, support a dive charter business in the summer out of Pt Judith, Rhode Island.

Gina Harden was the seventh female navy diver and was an active duty diver for 4 years.She went to dive school in Panama City, Florida and graduated in Jan 1982. Gina has been a Navy Reserve Diver for 14 years and is currently the Officer in Charge of Mobile Diving and Salvage Two detachment 608, working for CDR Bobbie Scholley. In 2000 she went back on active duty for a year and served as the Salvage Officer for 5th Fleet. She was a diver on the Monitor Expedition 2001 and also worked for three months in Oahu for the recovery of crewmembers and personal effects from the Japanese fishing vessels Eihme Maru. Her unit won the Rick Jones award for best reserve diving unit on the east coast last year.

CDR Debra Bodenstedt, XO, Atlantic Ordnance Command, Yorktown, VA is a qualified Navy Diver.

diver Correa
US Navy Photo by JO1 Rodney Furry

Construction Mechanic 2nd Class Lisa Correa, Underwater Construction Technician (UCT), or "Seabee Diver." Correa received her certificate from the Naval Construction Training Center's Underwater Construction School and earned a distinctive place in Navy diving history, becoming only the second woman, and the first African-American woman, to qualify as a Seabee Diver.

CDR Julie Neely (Modra), USN, MC, graduated Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal in 1980. Served at EODMU ONE, OIC EODMU ONE DET HAWAII, then went to Medical School, and became a Diving Medical Officer. Now lives in San Diego, married to CDR Richard Wayne Neely, USN (Ret), former EOD.

CDR Sue Fitzgerald, USN (Ret), graduated Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal in 1980 also, not sure who was first, her or Julie. Not sure of career details, though I know she served at EODMU TWO, OIC EODGRU TWO DET SIGONELLA, XO EODMU NINE, and I think CSO COMEODGRU ONE or TWO. Now living in Virginia Beach VA.

CDR Melanie Branson (Knight), USN (Ret), graduated Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal in 1984 or 1985 I think. First woman EOD Officer to deploy as OIC of an EOD Det aboard an aircraft carrier (I think) USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64), in the 93/94 timeframe, then served as OIC EODMU THREE DET CHINA LAKE. Retired as CO/OIC Consolidate Diving Unit San Diego. Now living in Ridgecrest CA (China Lake) teaching high school.

Many thanks to: A. N. Briggs, III Assistant to the Executive/Single Manager DoD EODT&T/CREW N85XA


Navy Recruiting District, NY, (Mar 2003) -- Women Divers Hall of Fame inductees (left) Lt. Cmdr. Lori Yost, and Cmdr. Gina Harden (right) pose with famed Navy diver, Capt. Bobie Scholley (middle), prior to an induction ceremony where Cmdr. Gina Harden received her Women Divers Hall of Fame certificate and pin and was officially welcomed into the society of elite women divers. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class John Harrington.

Many thanks to Donna Tobias, Kati Garner and other divers for their contributions to this page.

If you are aware of any others, please let me know.

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Please note: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is displayed without profit or payment for those who have expressed an interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. Photos and images are from the National Archives, The Naval History Center, The U.S. Army, USMC, U.S. Navy, USAF, U.S. Coast Guard, the Defense Visual Information Center, The Army Nurse Corps, and the personal collections of this author. Nothing on this site is for sale nor is it a commercial venture of any kind - it is a one person page for, and about military women - by one retired military woman.

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