Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Z-Gram 116: The Navy's "Equal Rights Amendment"

In a Google world that returns millions of results per search, finding a single item search result is a rarity.  Entering Zgram 116 without quotation marks gets over 77 million results, including every reference to “gram."  After adding quotation marks, one and only one item comes back.

The 1973 article result poignantly reports “Life Aboard the Navy’s First Coed Ship.” 

Today, the term "Z-gram" is used variously for newsletters and websites and social media usernames.  Even institutions such as the National Military Intelligence Association and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) use Zgrams for communication.  The word Z-gram, however, has a specific, significant etymology.  Zgram 116 in particular set in action a poignant transition in the Navy’s history.

The Z-Gram Legacy

The Navy’s Z-gram origin belongs to one of the more iconic Chiefs of Naval Operations (CNO).  In 1970, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt became the youngest CNO in Navy history, during one of its more tumultuous periods.  Late in the Vietnam Conflict era, Adm. Zumwalt faced a dual headed problem:  an aging fleet and equal opportunity tensions.  He considered retention to be the number one issue, and the numbers were reason for concern.

The new CNO institutionalized a cadre of Retention Study Groups (RSGs).  Beginning with a casual gathering of junior aviation officers, RSGs soon promulgated a more formal process which included numerous specialty groups within the Navy and addressed a broad variety of quality of life issues to include race and women inequalities.   Zgrams became his signature method of communicating the results of those RSGs and they transformed policy into action.




The Navy “Equal Rights Amendment”

The Zgrams – 121 in total – addressed a plethora of ongoing topics from haircuts to uniform guidance to radical personnel policy changes.  Zgram 116 was one of the latter category and came to be known as the Navy “Equal Rights Amendment.” 

It incorporated several transformations, including:

·     Command opportunity for women
·      Eliminating separate management of men and women
·     Opening all ratings to enlisted women
·     Suspending restrictions for women succeeding to command ashore
·     Opening the entire staff corps to women
·     Opening the restricted line to women
·     Integration of male and female detailing
·     Opening the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps to women


A Year of Firsts

With Z-gram 116, many career opportunities opened for women.  The Women Officer School (WOS) was disestablished, and Officer Candidate School (OCS) training was integrated to support both men and women.  During that same time period, the Navy had several firsts for women.


Captain Arlene Duerk, Director of the Nurse Corps, was spot promoted, becoming the US Navy's first female admiral.

Source: Navy Live (navylive.dodlive.mil)
Lieutenant Junior Grade Dianna Pohlman became the first female Chaplain in the Navy-as well as the entire Department of Defense. 

Source: Shipscribe.com

Although female crew members had served in medical roles aboard USS Sanctuary (AH-17) since her commissioning in 1945, she was recommissioned on November 18, 1972, after nearly a year in an inactive status, with two female officers and 60 female enlisted personnel assigned to perform in non-medical roles.  Sanctuary, with her newly-integrated crew, returned to service for a three month South American goodwill tour, including a Panama Canal transit.  

Source: The Seabag (Naval Station Norfolk), January 18, 1973, 5.  

Women Aviators

January of 1973, the first female Navy servicemembers were selected for flight training.  Lieutenant Junior Grade Barbara Allen was stationed in Norfolk on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) communications staff.  She was one of six selected and the first to complete her training in 1974.

Unpopular Reform

During his tenure, Adm. Zumwalt was not recognized for his equal opportunity achievements.  In fact, he was highly criticized for his sweeping strategic changes in personnel and warfare policy.  Even President Richard Nixon, who appointed Zumwalt over 33 senior ranking officers, appears to have had his regrets. 

Many years later, however, President Bill Clinton would recognize Zumwalt's forward thinking in the face of challenges by awarding him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.  

"I have a long list of friends and a long list of enemies," Zumwalt was fond of saying, "And I'm proud of both lists."


"Ours must be a Navy family that recognizes no artificial barriers of race, color, or religion. There is no black Navy, no white Navy-just one Navy-the United States Navy.

Z-Gram 66, December 17, 1970. 

(This post was written by Commander Colette Grail, USNR)

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