WASHINGTON – Following the 2013 repeal of the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, the secretary of defense will announce final decisions to integrate remaining closed occupations and any approved exceptions to policy on or about Jan. 1, 2016, a Pentagon official reported.
Juliet Beyler, the Defense Department’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management, reported “good progress” in the Women in Service Review, which validates all occupational standards to ensure they are operational, relevant and gender-neutral by September 2015.
“Throughout the course of the review of the regulations governing women in the military, we determined that the time had come to do away with the direct ground combat rule and open all positions to women instead,” Beyler said.
The goal, she explained, is to expand opportunities to ensure that all service members are eligible to serve in any capacity based on their abilities and qualifications, and to “remove those old gender-based barriers to service that no longer made sense.”
When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta removed the direct combat ground rule in 2013, they realized the need for a deliberate and measured approach to ensure the smoothest transition, Beyler said.
The services, she said, conducted various studies at interim milestones in order to review, validate and complete their occupational standards by the fall of 2015. “We’re on track and moving toward that goal,” Beyler said.
Since rescission of the definition and rule, Beyler said, the DoD has notified Congress of the integration of approximately 71,000 positions previously closed to women. This development, she said, can positively affect the force by allowing people to serve based on their ability.
“Expanding opportunities to women, to include the 71,000 we’ve already opened since 2013,” Beyler said, “[gives] a wider pool of qualified people so that commanders have greater flexibility … and it’ll strengthen the all-volunteer force.”
More than 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, including Beyler, who’s a two-time combat veteran.
“I like to say that women have been serving in combat since the Revolutionary War, but the 280,000 that we’ve recently seen deployed have contributed in immeasurable ways,” Beyler said.
She said there were various ways in which women were restricted from occupations under the direct ground combat rule, primarily preclusion from assignments to combat units below the brigade level.
“But there were other restrictions such as for physical requirements or positions associated with special operations or long-range reconnaissance,” she added. “We are reviewing all of the occupational standards.”
The services, she said, “are expending a good amount of their time on those 100-percent closed occupations.”
Historically, the department had opened positions by exception, but it now has acknowledged it would make more sense to “flip the presumption,” Beyler said, so that all positions will be open to women unless there’s a reason that they should be closed.
Guidance to the services and to U.S. Special Operations Command includes a provision in which a military department secretary or service chief can request an exception to the policy to keep a position closed, according to Beyler.
“But any exception is going to have to be rigorously justified and will have to be based on the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform the duties of the position,” she said.
Regarding assignments, training, and accessions, Beyler said those elements have been and will continue to be service responsibilities.
As defense secretary, Panetta directed each of the services and SOCOM to develop individual implementation plans tailored to their unique requirements, she said.
“As we have with the positions we’ve already opened and the ones that we’ll continue to open throughout the next year and beyond,” Beyler added, “each service will use the regular accession and training assignment pipelines and timelines that they’ve always used.”
The process of opening more military occupations to women is about maintaining the all-volunteer force and readiness, Beyler said.
“More than 90 percent of our occupations are already open to women and 15 percent of our forces are women,” she said. “By removing these antiquated gender-based barriers to service, it can only strengthen the all-volunteer force and allow people to serve based on their ability and their qualifications.”