WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rescinding the policy that excluded women since 1994 from serving in direct ground combat positions will strengthen the military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, Jan 24.
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey joined Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta at a Pentagon news conference to announce the decision and to sign a joint memorandum that sets the process in motion.
“Today we are acting to expand the opportunities for women to serve in the United States armed forces and to better align our policies with the experiences we have had over the past decade of war,” Dempsey said. “Ultimately, we’re acting to strengthen the joint force.”
As part of the new policy, the services are reviewing about 53,000 positions now closed by unit, but will be open to women who meet standards developed for the positions.
According to senior defense officials, the services are also reviewing about 184,000 positions now closed by specialty, but will be open to women who meet the standards.
Gender-neutral occupational standards are specific requirements for anyone who wants to qualify for a specific job, an official explained. This is different from a physical fitness test, which is a general assessment of fitness that is standardized for gender and age throughout the services.
If any of the services recommend that a specific position be closed to women, the secretary of defense must personally approve that recommendation, the official said. Panetta directed the military departments to submit detailed implementation plans by, May 15 and to move ahead to integrate women into previously closed positions. The Secretary directed the process to be complete by Jan. 1, 2016.
Women make up about 15 percent, or nearly 202,400, of the U.S. military’s, 1.4 million active-duty personnel. Over the past decade, more than 280,000 women have deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — 152 of them have died.
Many women in uniform, Dempsey said, have already served in combat, recalling his arrival in Baghdad as commander of the 1st Armored Division in 2003. During his first foray out of the forward operating base, he said, he hopped into an up-armored Humvee and asked the driver who he was and where he was from, Dempsey recalled. Then, he slapped the turret gunner on the leg and asked, ‘Who are you?’ She leaned down and said, ‘I’m Amanda.”
The female turret-gunner was protecting her division commander, the Chairman said. “It was from that point on that I realized something had changed and it was time to do something about it,” he said.
The Joint Chiefs share common cause on the need to start the process of integrating women into combat-related jobs that have been closed to them and to do it right, Dempsey said.
“We’re committed to a purposeful and a principled approach,” he said, adding that the Joint Chiefs developed a set of guiding principles for successfully integrating women into previously restricted occupational fields.
The department and the services will extend opportunities to women in a way that maintains readiness, morale and unit cohesion and preserves warfighting capability, in addition to upholding the nation’s trust and confidence. Dempsey said
“We’ll also integrate women in a way that enhances opportunity for everyone. This means setting clear standards of performance for all occupations based on what it actually takes to do the job,” the Chairman explained.
“It also means ensuring that these standards are gender-neutral in occupations that will open to women,” he added.
The services and U.S. Special Operations Command will begin expanding the number of units and the number of women assigned to those units this year, the Chairman said.
“They will continue to assess, develop and validate gender-neutral standards, so we can start assigning personnel to previously closed occupations,” he added. “They will take the time needed to do the work without compromising the principles I just mentioned.”
Adherence to the principles may lead to an assessment that some specialties and ratings should remain exceptions, he noted.
“In some cases, however, the services will bear the responsibility for providing the thorough analysis needed to better understand and better articulate what’s best for the Joint Force and the women who serve in it,” the Chairman said.
Women will continue to serve with distinction throughout the armed forces, he said, in and out of combat, on land and at sea and in the air.
“We all wear the same uniform and we all fire the same weapons,” he added. “Most importantly, we all take the same oath.”