Erienne Kriesch went sky-diving for the first time two weeks ago. "It was amazing, unreal," said Kriesch, 23, a recent college graduate whose world view already is wider than most. It's soon to be deeper, too.

Kriesch, who attended Glencoe-Silver Lake schools from eighth through 11th grade, and whose family ties to Minnesota remain strong, is among 19 women shattering one of the military's final barriers. She'll serve as an officer on a U.S. Navy submarine sometime in 2011. The ban on females was lifted earlier this year with blessedly little resistance.

She's excited about joining "a community of people who are so hard-working." And making history? No biggie. Her quietly beaming mom, Liana Rasset, of Cokato, Minn., explains. Erienne, she said, "just jumps in over her head and swims."

Erienne, named by her mother for the heroine in a Scottish romance novel, was born in Bamberg, Germany, while her father, Jerry, served in the U.S. Army. The family moved to a six-acre hobby farm in Chapman, Kan., where the little girl grew up around cows, pigs, a horse and chickens. A self-professed tomboy, she watched her two older brothers play sports and wanted to do what they were doing. That included wrestling. Her parents at first tried to dissuade her. "You know how you and Dad always tell me nothing should hold me back?" she reminded her mom.

She wrestled from ages 8 to 10, against boys whose fathers admonished them: "Whatever you do, don't get pinned by a girl." Not surprisingly, GI Jane was among her childhood heroines.

After her parents divorced, she moved to Minnesota with her mom, then finished high school in Kansas a semester early. She was a 4.0 student who excelled in math and science. Still, she had no idea what to do with her life.

"I was mature enough to know that I wasn't mature enough to go to college," said Kriesch, chatting over lunch earlier this week, tanned, rested and dressed in a brightly colored sundress, having just returned from a camping expedition with her mom.

She decided to take a breather from school, working one job from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., then another from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Some breather.

The military always was on her mind. Aside from her Army father and a Marine uncle, her 21-year-old brother, Ryan, lives in Bloomington and serves in the Army National Guard.

In August 2005, she enlisted in the Navy. Three weeks later, she was on a plane to boot camp. Four months of classes as a nuclear machinist mate followed, then six months of Nuclear Power School before attending the Naval Science Institute in Rhode Island. She attended college through Naval ROTC at Oregon State University, where she majored in radiation health physics. She was commissioned as an officer in June.

'Not an option' evaporated

For years, Kriesch told her submarine adviser, Lt. T.C. Bowers, that "if they ever changed that law," she'd really like to be considered for submarine duty. "I wish I could," he'd tell her, "but that's not an option right now."

In February, Bowers had news: "Congress is going to overturn the ban of women on submarines and we think you'd be perfect for it." A week later, Kriesch headed to Washington, D.C., for screening, interviews and physical endurance tests. (On a good day, she can do 90 push-ups and 120 sit-ups.) She's been told that she will be "attached to a boat by the end of 2011."

Perhaps the biggest news is how little push-back she's experienced since Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said that allowing women to serve on submarines was "the right thing to do." Navy spokesman Jason Cole added that women now outnumber men in terms of science and technical degrees.

"I've never experienced sexism in the Navy," Kriesch said.

Women began serving aboard surface warships in 1993. They were barred from submarines partly because of the close quarters and limited sleeping areas, as well as health concerns about pregnancy. But larger submarines always have had separate quarters for officers, which is why female officers will be the first to serve. Women, like men, will be attached to a submarine for about three years, spending about six months underwater each year, in three-month increments.

While warned about the perils of an underseas pregnancy, Kriesch doesn't get the fuss. "The women are professionals, just like the men," she said. "I can't even imagine it being a problem."

Ensign Kriesch heads to South Carolina for training beginning Aug. 18. She's excited, and nervous.

"Whatever you do is going to be highlighted, negative or positive," she said. "You just perform the best you can. I think back, and everything has always worked out."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 •