WASHINGTON – Since the Defense Department rescinded a 1994 policy that excluded women from serving in direct ground combat positions, the services have opened about 91,000 jobs to female service members, the Joint Staff’s vice director said here today.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost spoke at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event that looked at changes made by the Defense Department, the services and U.S. Southern Command for servicewomen since the 2013 repeal of the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.
Early next year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to announce final decisions to integrate remaining closed occupations and any approved exceptions to policy.
The repeal was endorsed by then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
“Today, 95 percent of all [military occupational specialties] are open to women,” Van Ovost said. “Women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission of defending our nation.”
What the Services Accomplished
Van Ovost briefly outlined some of the specialties the services have opened to women since the January 2013 repeal.
The Marine Corps allowed women in 2013 to participate in basic infantry training in its “ongoing research to determine what additional combat jobs may be open to female personnel,” Van Ovost said. But while 34 percent of the women completed the course, she added, they won’t be assigned to the infantry as a military occupational specialty or inside a unit.
“But they are critical to assess and validate the gender-neutral standards,” she said.
The Navy’s Coastal Riverine Force opened 267 jobs to women who learned combat skills, weapon fundamentals and equipment, land navigation, urban operations, offensive and defensive patrols and communications, Van Ovost said.
The Army opened more combat engineer positions to women, who have learned a variety of tasks that include improvised explosive device detection, basic combat construction, field fortifications and bridging support to U.S. combat forces, she said.
“The Army combat engineer school is considered a model for developing women in combat standards,” the general said. The most anticipated decision will be whether to open combat arms, infantry, armor and Special Forces occupations to women, she added.
Most Capable Service Members
“Our military leaders strive to make sure operations are carried out by the best-qualified and most-capable service member, period,” she said. That’s a policy that hasn’t changed since DoD opened positions to women, Van Ovost said, adding that the guiding principles set by the chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff center on maintaining a strong military.
Those principles also “ensure the success of our warfighting force by preserving unit readiness, cohesion and the equality of our all-volunteer force,” she noted.
Chairman Immersed in Assessment
The chairman continues to be a key player in the assessment in his roles as the senior military adviser to the president and the defense secretary, Van Ovost said.
“As part of his assessment, General Dempsey not only engages military leaders,” she said, “he actively seeks the opinion of all servicemen and servicewomen of all ranks, both genders and [all] occupational specialties.”
Van Ovost said she’s inspired by the chairman’s commitment to work with the services on assessing combat roles for women.
“I can assure you his recommendations to the [defense] secretary will be based on rigorous analysis,” she said.