“What do you think about women in combat (specialties)?” asked a sergeant at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy in Charlottesville, Va., Jan. 29.
“Tell me what you think,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III replied during a Q&A chat with some 50 NCOs at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center & School, on the campus of the University of Virginia. “This is important by the way. It’s a great question.”
“I don’t have a problem with this,” said the sergeant. “People who are able to meet the same standards should have the same possibilities, however, I believe there should be one standard.”
Chandler nodded his approval of the sergeant’s analysis.
“As an Army, we should be seeking the best qualified and most talented individuals and match them against the requirements for the Army, regardless of gender,” Chandler said. “So if you’re the best-qualified to be an 11 Bravo (infantryman) and that’s what you want to do, then I say ‘go for it.’
“The most important thing people need to take away from this is that this is about managing talent,” he continued. “This is about us finding the best-qualified people to do the jobs that we need them to do in the Army, for the Army to be successful in supporting the nation.”
The topic about women in combat military occupational specialties came up because Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey signed a memo Jan. 24, paving the way for more women to serve in direct combat roles and in more military occupational specialties, or MOSs, that are now open only to males.
The memo rescinds the 1994 DOD “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule,” which states in part: “Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”
The memo does not spell out which MOSs will be open to women. Rather, it directs the services to provide their implementation strategies to the DOD by May 2013. Implementation will begin this year and be completed by Jan. 1, 2016.
Chandler said that once the decision was made by the secretary of Defense and the president to open more positions to women, it’s now every soldier’s duty to carry this out and to ensure “it’s done within the spirit and intent (of the order) and to the best of our ability.”
“This to me goes back to your commitment to the Profession of Arms and what you’ve chosen to do when you took that oath, which is to be a United States Army soldier,” he added.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is now reviewing the five closed career fields: armor, artillery, infantry, combat engineers and special forces. Those reviews include physical requirements necessary to perform the job. Chandler provided some examples of how he thinks the standards might be reviewed.
“I’m a tanker by background and from the armor school perspective they say the highest physical requirement is to load the gun on the tank,” he said. “So you’ve got to be in the seated position, take about a 60-pound projectile, hold it, turn your body and put it in the gun within five seconds, (12 times in a minute). That’s their highest physical requirement.
“Now we’re going to assess that to make sure it’s still accurate, because that requirement is about 30 years old. And if it is (still accurate), then that will be the requirement for everyone when we open that MOS,” adding that these standards will be gender-neutral.
Chandler then offered an example from the infantry occupational series.
“Their highest performance requirement is to carry 128 pounds,” he said. “Now where does that number come from? Twelve pounds for uniform, about 60 pounds for body armor and the rest is in your assault pack. You’ve got to be able to carry that weight and conduct a road march a certain distance and be able to move directly into combat.
“Is that still accurate?” he asked rhetorically. “We’re going to assess that. Do you need to be able to march 20 kilometers in six hours? Is that what we expect every infantryman to do?”
“Many of these physical requirements are very old, so we’ve got to confirm that those requirements still exist and is it a reasonable expectation for all people to be able to perform the tasks associated,” he added.
Chandler said TRADOC is assessing not only the five closed MOSs but also other MOSs. He said those assessments “will be a very deliberate process” and plans for implementation should be ready to present to the secretary of Defense by May.
In addition to the MOS assessments, Chandler said the Army will be “continuing our nine-brigade pilot that we’re working on to expand the role of women from a unit perspective and we’re going to expand that and incorporate the Army National Guard and Army Reserve and other brigades across the Army as we expand the opportunities for our female soldiers.”
Chandler advised that before soldiers start asking a lot of detailed questions about the assessments and standards they “wait and let TRADOC do their job.”