WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Defense Department continues working toward its goal of ensuring the mission is met with fully qualified and capable personnel, regardless of gender, the Pentagon’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management said here yesterday.
Speaking at a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee hearing on women in service, Juliet Beyler said the services and U.S. Special Operations Command are working with research agencies to review and validate occupational standards.
“The department is proceeding in a measured, deliberate and responsible manner to implement changes that enable service members to serve in any capacity based on their ability and qualifications,” she said. Each service is conducting thorough doctrine, training, education, facilities and policy analyses to ensure deliberate and responsible implementation, she added.
Beyler was joined at the hearing by witnesses from each of the military services and SOCOM.
“Our goal is to integrate women leaders and soldiers into recently opened positions and units as expeditiously as possible,” said Army Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, the deputy chief of staff for personnel. The first step is to validate the physical and mental performance standards for every military occupation, he said.
From there, a battery of tests will be developed to assess whether recruits are capable of achieving the standards of their potential occupation, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr., the deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs.
Standards ultimately will become gender-neutral, Bromberg said, though training for those standards may be different for men and women. Occupational training in the Marine Corps is gender-mixed, Milstead told the panel, but in recognition of the need to train men and women differently, the transformation from recruit to Marine is gender-segregated.
“Our boot camp is about the transformation of individuals — men and women — from being a civilian to being a United States Marine. … They just need different steps as they go,” he said. “They end up in the same place — they’re United States Marines.”
The decision to rescind the 1994 rule excluding women from direct ground combat and combat occupations was announced earlier this year. Then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, directed the military services and SOCOM to implement the change by Jan. 1, 2016, Beyler said. By September 2015, each service and SOCOM must review and validate all occupational standards to ensure that they are occupationally and operationally relevant and applied gender-neutrally, she added.
“We have always maintained that our (special operations forces) standards are occupationally specific, operationally relevant and gender-neutral. They are just the standards,” said Army Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, the director of force management and development for SOCOM. “Our review will be a good opportunity to verify this assumption.”
Plans for managing the integration of women into previously closed units and occupations already have been submitted and reviewed by Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and were released last month, Beyler said. Each plan manages positions in two general categories: currently open occupations that previously were restricted by the unit of assignment, and currently closed occupations, such as infantry or armor specialties.
“And each has identified decision points by which they will make final determinations to open occupations and positions or request an exception to policy to keep the position or occupation closed,” Beyler said.
For SOCOM, the focus is on whether small units, operating near or behind enemy lines, can achieve full integration while maintaining unit readiness, cohesion and morale, Sacolick said.
“Women have been attached to our combat units for several years, part of our cultural support teams, civil affairs, military information support teams, intelligence support and a host of other occupational specialties,” he said. “And they have performed magnificently.”
The Air Force already has more than 99 percent of its positions open to both men and women, said Brig. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, the director of force management policy and deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services.
The remaining 4,600 positions are in seven career fields affiliated with special operations and long-range reconnaissance ground combat units. The Air Force is working to open these positions as well, Grosso added.
“(The) Navy expects to have no closed occupations, a very limited number of closed positions, and equal professional opportunity for females in every officer designator and enlisted rating by 2016,” said Navy Rear Adm. Barbara Sweredoski, the reserve deputy for military personnel plans and policy.
Exceptions must be personally approved by both the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Beyler said. Opening combat occupations to women will enhance the readiness and combat effectiveness of forces, she added.
“Implementation through 2016 will be an evolutionary process,” she said. “We are committed to opening positions and occupations when and how it makes sense while preserving unit readiness, cohesion and the quality of the all-volunteer force.
“Standards will be uncompromising, established for the task of defending our nation and rooted in carefully analyzed requirements,” she added.
Bromberg said the Army is taking that approach. “We will not sacrifice warfighting capability, the trust of Congress or that of the American people as we seek to enhance force readiness and capability,” he said. “We will select the best-qualified soldiers, regardless of gender, for each job within the Army profession, ensuring our future force capability and readiness.”
Beyler told the House panel that the Defense Department is committed to doing it right.
“We recognize there will be challenges, but we will learn much from each step,” she said. “By addressing issues head-on, capitalizing on lessons learned and through open communication with Congress, we will institutionalize these important changes integrating women into occupations and units in a climate where they can succeed and flourish.”