As one of the first women assigned to a nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Jean Bridget “J.B.” Loomis ’11 has slowly but surely grown accustomed to life as an anomaly.
“I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me if I was actually assigned to USS Virginia or just outright stared at me because they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Interactions like that used to weigh on me. I was very uncomfortable with being abnormal, even if the circumstances which cause me to stand out are beyond my control,” Loomis says, noting that women were not allowed to serve on attack submarines until 2013. “Eventually, I just harkened back to my teachers at Shipley, who held space for me to be unique. I was never siloed into being the jock, or the nerd, or the girl. I was just J.B.”
Prior to attending the United States Naval Academy, Loomis admits that she “knew pitifully little about the military.” Her studies in ocean engineering and a desire to pursue that line of work, however, led to her acceptance into the Nuclear Navy.
Loomis continued her studies—this time, in mechanical engineering—at the Naval Postgraduate School. Then came training at Nuclear Power School before one deployment aboard USS Virginia, which is currently completing an extensive overhaul, or Depot Modernization Period, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on Seavey’s Island in Kittery, Maine.
“As much as it terrified me when I first started, I like standing watch and being in charge of the reactor. When you’re on watch, things break and it’s your job to fix them while keeping the reactor, the submarine, and the people on board safe,” Loomis says. “I chose to be an engineer because I like problem solving.”
Whether anticipating changes in reactor plant conditions or estimating distances between submarines, an ability to rapidly perform mental calculations—which Loomis acquired at Shipley—remains vitally important to her active-duty service.