Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the historic announcement Thursday that all military combat roles will be open to women, including the most elite and grueling units like the Navy SEALs and Marine Corps infantry.
Carter told a news conference announcing the decision that for the military to become the “force of the future” it must tap into the “widest possible talent pool” – and that includes women, who represent more than half of the population. population.
“No exceptions”, but some caveats
Carter said there will be ‘no exceptions’ – all combat roles will be open to women in 30 days, ‘as long as they qualify’ and meet the same rigorous physical and training standards as the men . Military services have until April 1 to welcome women in all roles. Women will be able to drive tanks, fire mortars, lead infantry into battle and serve as green berets.
About 111,000 combat positions have been opened up to women since the ban was lifted, Carter said. The women have diploma of the Army Rangers course, and they serve on submarines. But about 10% of positions in the army, or nearly 220,000, are still closed to women.
Carter noted that assignments will always be made based on ability, not gender, and that equal opportunity still likely won’t mean equal participation. He also said that the average physical differences between men and women, while not applicable to all men and women, are a reality and can affect recruitment and retention. It’s also unclear whether women will be required to enter the draft.
Either way, Carter said, combat effectiveness and readiness will drive implementation.
This decision took three years
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat on January 24, 2013, but implementation is ongoing. Panetta gave all branches of the military three years to study the potential impacts of the change and request any exceptions to the new rule. These three years are over and the results are there.
Carter said senior Army, Navy, Air Force and special operations forces officials weren’t recommending any exceptions. in the mandate allowing women to serve in combat roles. The Marine Corps requested a partial exemption, but Carter explained why he was refusing this request: “We are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision that applies to the entire force.” The Marine Corps had released a study in September, indicating that mixed forces were less effective than all-male forces, but Carter said the study was “not definitive”. Implementation will consider team dynamics as well as individual capabilities, Carter said.
Even though combat roles are closed to them, women continue saw the fight even before the ban was lifted. Women have been deployed to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan – technically in a role supporting combat units, but still seeing combat. Being unable to serve officially in combat roles created a “brass ceiling,” since formal recognition of combat service is crucial for promotion to higher military ranks.
Neither Carter nor the reporters present at the press conference acknowledged the enormous problem of military sexual assaultor how this issue will be taken into account when implementing this change.
“Secretary Carter’s decision was the right one for our military and our country,” Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “No individual who wants to serve their country should be barred from competing or serving in a military office solely because of their gender. Instead, every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine should be judged on their merit and ability .”