|Group photo of the eight female sailors who work combat posts on the "Harbin" missile destroyer. [Photo by Wang Changsong]|
On Feb 16, 2013, China's 14th naval fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters departed from Qingdao, a port in east China, on an escorting mission. Among the 730-strong troops are eight female sailors who work combat posts on the "Harbin" missile destroyer.
Their ages range from 21 to 24. Seven of them graduated from college or university. Different from those female naval officers who served as translators or medical staff on the previous escort missions, they are the first female sailors serving in combat posts, such as navigation, communication, antisubmarine and missile conducting. Each of the eight girls can be on duty independently.
Bittersweet life on board
After a six-month-long training and passing the physical examination, fitness test and professional competence assessment, the eight girls from across the country have realized their dream of becoming sailors. Nevertheless, they soon found that life on board was not as romantic or easy as they had initially assumed.
There is only one cabin for the eight female sailors on the entire ship, covering an area of less than 20 square meters. They sleep on bunk beds like those seen in tourist coaches on the train. Those who sleep on the upper or middle berths cannot sit up straight. There is no mobile phone signal in the cabin either. But as the first batch of female sailors, they receive special treatment in the form of having a private bathroom, washing machine and dryer.