WASHINGTON – Women have proven themselves on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and opening more combat roles to them is the right thing to do, service leaders said Thursday.
Eliminating gender barriers to combat service is “a great opportunity to make our Army better,” said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army’s deputy chief of staff.
Last year, the Army opened six military occupational specialties to women, and allowed women to be assigned to battalion-level units in nine brigade combat teams. So far, 113 women have been selected for the new specialties and will begin training this year.
“The art of the possible in regard to women has been redefined by their performance in the last 10 years,” said Gen. Robert Cone, commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
Cone and Bromberg said they have heard positive feedback from male and female soldiers about the changes.
“The concern I get when I talk to soldiers is really about lowering standards, saying we have people on our team who can’t carry their share of the weight,” Cone said, adding that he believes the Army can overcome those concerns with rigorous but fair gender-neutral standards.
“This is a values-based organization that is in support of the American people, so the idea that someone says, ‘I don’t want them here, I don’t like them,’ is not going to carry a lot of weight as we look at reasons,” Cone said.
The Navy also has made moves toward including more women in roles that were previously closed to them, including jobs on submarines. Three years ago, the Navy announced it would allow women to serve on guided-missile attack and ballistic missile submarines, and now women will be able to serve on Virginia class, or fast-attack, submarines, according to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
Rear Admiral Anthony Kurta, director of military personnel, plans and policy, said the Navy sees the removal of the combat exclusion policy of a continuation of the service’s efforts over the last 20 years to integrate women into more roles.
About 88 percent of the Navy’s positions are open to both genders, Kurta said. The closed positions include about 19,000 on various classes of ships and submarines, 5,000 that are attached to Marine Corps ground combat units, 3,000 in special operations, 400 in the coastal riverine force and about 1,000 officer positions closed on nuclear submarines.
“We know that our sailors today understand and see their counterparts as equal members of the team because they’ve been serving side by side just about everywhere in the Navy,” Kurta said.
In the past, the Navy has added women to ships or units that were previously limited to men by first adding officers and senior enlisted leaders, then junior enlisted women. The Army is likely to use that model when opening some units to women – adding a group of leaders first, rather than just one lone woman or a junior soldier with no female leaders or role models.
The Marine Corps also opened thousands of new assignments to women last year, and began allowing women to volunteer to attend its challenging Infantry Officer Course in order to gather data about their performance. The first two women to enter the course both washed out. So far, two more women have volunteered for the 10-week course that begins in March.
About 75 percent of the Army is open to both genders, or about 97 percent of the military occupational specialties. About 99 percent of Air Force positions are already open to women.
The services have until May 15 to submit detailed plans for how they will open combat roles to women, and officials said it’s likely that the integration will be incremental.
“Not every woman wants to do this,” Cone said, “but there are women that want to do this, and I think they should have the chance.”