On January 23, 2013, a historic decision was announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, to allow women to actively serve in combat roles. This decision rescinds the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule and was developed in collaboration with the Chairman and the Joint Chiefs.
In a press release from the Pentagon the decision was outlined as follows; “This is the next logical step in the Army’s effort to eliminate gender-based restrictions – a change in the way we look at women’s assignment policy. Previously, we have opened positions to women by exception; we will now close positions by exception. To successfully integrate women into the remaining closed positions, we must:
Ensure the success of our forces by preserving unit readiness, cohesion, and morale.
Retain the trust and confidence of the American people by promoting policies that maintain the best quality and most qualified people.
Validate occupational standards for all military occupational specialties (MOSs).”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said,”What we’re doing right now is accessing the physical requirements for each of the jobs within the Army, we call them Military Occupational Specialties. We’re starting with the five closed MOS’s first because they’re the ones that require the most amount of work. But we’ll also validate all of the physical requirements for the other MOS’s across the Army. And once we’ve done that, then we’ll then go out to the force and assess whether or not those physical requirements done by the force as it is right now work, and if not, make some adjustments. We’re really focused on accessibility verses exclusion. ” Each services is required to submit their implementation plan to the Secretary of Defense by May 15th, 2013.
The changes will be implemented as soon as possible with a total assimilation occurring by January 1st, 2016. The Department of Defense’s goal is to open approximately 237,000 previously closed positions to women by 2016. According to the release, the fallback position for the DoD is that a review will be conducted to assure that allowing women into certain positions will not cause conflict. If a legitimate conflict arises, the services can request an exception to ban women from those positions. Concerning units previously closed to women, such as Navy Seals or Special Forces, the DoD plans to use follow-on assessments and pilot efforts to ease the expected transition.
“One of the outcomes we expect is that we may have some changes to our physical fitness testing,” said Chandler. “We may have some very specific MOS testing that is also required. We may have something that says, all soldiers in the Army need to be able to do X, and then if you are, for instance, a field artillerymen, then you have to be able to do these things. That’s where we think this is going to take us.”
Chandler said, “Our expectation is that we have one standard for all persons, regardless if they are male or female. We want to have the best qualified, the best athletes possible in the United States Army. And that means we have to provide opportunities for everyone and not have a policy that is exclusive to someone who happens to be a female versus a male.”
The controversy surrounding Panetta’s decision has rippled through the public with both sides expressing a range of comments from outrage to accord. Sgt. 1st Class Robin Jackson-Woods, a 16 year veteran serving as Counter Intelligence specialist in the United States Army, said, “You’d think as a woman I’d be all for it. But I’m conflicted I guess. I know there are women out there that can do it, mentally we can handle it. As long as there is a screening process then I’m all for it.”
Sgt. 1st Class Cory Smith, a 20 year veteran retiring with three combat tours in Iraq serving as a Fire Support Specialist, said, “[Female soldiers] would have to be with their unit from the start. That way the younger soldiers could get that team cohesion from the start. It’s important that the officers are intelligent enough to recognize when issues arise and address them immediately.”
Many questions are yet to be answered concerning the transition. Will women be included in selective service? How will most Americans feel about officially sending their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters to war?
“My youngest daughter has been talking to me about joining the Army,” Chandler said. “As long as she could meet the physical standards- if you can do the job then I whole heartedly support you doing it. If you can’t-then we would find another way for you to serve. And really we should be grateful for her desire to serve, that’s the bottom line.”