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updated 10/21/2010 6:08:44 PM ET 2010-10-21T22:08:44

The Navy selected four submarines Thursday to carry the first women serving aboard what has been the last class of warship off-limits to them.

Twenty-four female officers are in training for submarine service and are expected to join their ships in December 2011.

The Navy selected the USS Wyoming and USS Georgia, based in Kings Bay, Ga., and the USS Maine and USS Ohio, with their home port in Bangor, Wash.

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The Navy announced in the spring that it was lifting the ban on women serving aboard subs. They had been barred on the theory that the close quarters and long deployments common to these ships were unsuitable for a coed crew.

The 560-foot nuclear-powered ballistic- or cruise-missile submarines chosen Thursday are big by submarine standards, allowing the Navy greater flexibility in designing accommodations for the first women aboard.

The initial class of women will serve in teams of three, all sharing a stateroom, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Rebecca Rebarich said. The lone bathroom for officers will bear a reversible sign — letting men know that it's in use by women and vice versa.

They'll be divided up so that women are assigned to each sub's two rotating crews.

Limiting women to officer slots lets the Navy, for a time at least, sidestep the more vexing and cost-prohibitive problem of modifying subs to have separate bunks and bathrooms for enlisted men and women. Enlisted sailors make up about 90 percent of a sub's 160-member crew.

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