Although a tenth of the U.S. Navy's officers are women, Lt. Cmdr. Darlene M. Iskra has become the first to captain her own ship. She'll be even happier, she says, when women are allowed into battle.

"Women are in every aspect of naval duties today," Iskra said last week. "We're limited in the type of ship that we may board, but that might change, and I hope it does."Women are not permitted to serve aboard combat ships.

Iskra, 38, was installed Thursday night as commander of the USS Opportune, a salvage ship with a 98-member, all-male crew.

She replaced Cmdr. Edgar J. Jones, who flew to the United States from the U.S. Sixth Fleet base in Naples for emergency medical treatment. Iskra had been scheduled to replace Jones on Jan. 24.

"My being a woman is just not an issue. I'm different from Cmdr. Jones, but if I was a male I would be different from him too," she said.

"It's great," she said of her assignment. "It's the best thing I've ever done."

Iskra, of South San Francisco, Calif., is a special operations officer and the Navy's most senior female diving officer, though she won't be doing much diving as the Opportune's commander.

Before her assignment to the USS Opportune, Iskra was second-in-command of the USS Preserver, based in Little Creek, Va.

Crew members said there had been little negative reaction to Iskra's appointment.

"You must respect the uniform and the rank, regardless of who's behind them," said Bill Watterson, a senior chief petty officer from Norfolk, Va.

"It's going to cause some of us to be more careful of our so-called sailor talk," he added with a grin.

The Opportune, currently on a five-month tour, recovers equipment or the wreckage of ships from the sea and sometimes tows disabled vessels.