Pentagon reviewing plans to integrate women into newly opened combat roles
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 5, 2016
WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders are examining plans proposed by each military service to open about 225,000 previously male-only jobs to female troops in the coming months.
Implementation plans were due to Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday, about one month after he announced women would no longer be barred from serving in any position in the military for which they are qualified. Officials from each service confirmed their implementation plans had been submitted.
The plans, which outline how each service intends to incorporate women into the newly opened jobs and units, will be reviewed by the Pentagon’s implementation working group, tasked with overseeing the short-term execution of Carter’s decision and “ensure there are no unintended consequences on the joint force,” the defense secretary said Dec. 3. The working group, co-chaired by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was directed by Carter to work with the services to open all positions by April 1.
U.S. Special Operations Command was granted a “short extension” to submit its own implementation plan, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, requested the extension to allow time to “collaborate thoroughly with the services” because many special operations units also report to the individual services, Cook said.
Carter’s decision followed years of studies on the impact that integrating women into the traditionally all-male jobs and units would have on the military. Mandated by Congress in 2011, the Defense Department reviewed its policies restricting women from roles primarily in the infantry, armor and special operations fields. The Army, Air Force and Navy secretaries and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command supported Carter’s decision, while the Marine Corps commandant asked for exceptions for several jobs.
“There will be no exceptions,” Carter said during his announcement. “This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat.”
The services conducted more than 30 comprehensive studies and developed gender-neutral physical standards for individual occupations. Despite years of planning, Pentagon officials have said some problems are expected to occur as women are integrating into the new fields.
“Implementation won’t happen overnight, and while at the end of the day, this will make us a better and stronger force, there still will be problems to fix and challenges to overcome,” Carter said.
He stressed the services’ implementation plans must not compromise unit effectiveness or weaken existing job standards. Additionally, Carter said equal opportunity would not mean there would be quotas for female troops in certain positions or units.
“Mission effectiveness is most important,” Carter said. “Defending this country is our primary responsibility, and it cannot be compromised. That means everyone who serves in uniform – men and women alike – has to be able to meet the high standards for whatever job they’re in.”
Since 2013, more than 110,000 formerly male-only positions have opened to female troops, primarily in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Carter’s decision opened the remaining 19 Army, 22 Marine Corps, five Navy and six Air Force male-only occupations to women. Nearly all of those jobs were in the infantry, armor, field artillery or special operations branches.
Marine Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro prepares to hike to her platoon's defensive position during patrol week of Infantry Training Battalion near Camp Geiger, N.C., in October 2013. Fuentes Montenegro is one of the first three females to ever graduate from Infantry Training Battalion. The Marine general in charge of implementing a Pentagon plan to open ground combat jobs to women concluded there are benefits as well as significant risks to the proposal.
TYLER L. MAIN/COURTESY U.S. MARINE CORPS