In An Historic Move The Pentagon Opens Up All Military Combat Roles For Women

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It was an historic decision that will change the face of American military forever. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Thursday December 3rd that every branch of the military will now open up all combat unit jobs to women, striking down a ban that had officially been in place since 1994, but were also around since 1979 when women were prohibited from direct combat roles and assignments despite enlistment qualifications becoming the same for women and men fir the first time since WWI and WWII.

After 4 military servicewomen sued the Pentagon in 2012 saying they should be allowed to apply for all direct combat roles since they are forced to take on these positions when on the front lines anyway, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced in January 2013 a removal of the military’s ban on women in combat roles, but it would take 3 years and numerous experimental trials for the department of defense to finally reach it’s historic decision this month.

One of the arguments for women being allowing to apply for combat units is that the ban had also stopped them from climbing the leadership ladder as 80% of general officers come from combat arms positions.

Secretary Carter said that roughly 220,000 jobs, or about 10%, of the military remained closed to women before Thursday’s announcement. Another 110,000 jobs in careers like artillery officer were opened in a series of decisions since 2013.

“There will be no exceptions. This means that, as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men,” he said.

Positive affirmations from many within the military and the government (including President Obama) show they are in full support of this long overdue decision.

“Those of us who served in harm’s way with women already know: gender is not the measure of a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. In combat, I relied on the judgment, skill, and courage of my fellow soldiers. I applaud Secretary Carter’s decision to let merit, not gender, determine who is fit to serve in combat arms positions in our military. Today’s decision is in large part thanks to the remarkable women whose service, sacrifice, and unquestionable valor on the battlefield settled this issue long ago,” said Michael Breen, President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each branch will have 30 days to provide implementation plans to the Department of Defense, and each plan will use a set of 7 specific guidelines as outlined by the DOD here.

For the record, top leaders in the Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command all recommended that all jobs be opened to women, and although the Marine Corps insisted positions such as machine gunner remain closed to women, the Secretary made it clear the military is joint force and that the rules apply everywhere.

This decision comes only months after news broke of the first 2 women to complete the grueling army rangers training in Fort Bening, Georgia. It was the first time women proved they are physically capable of being part of this elite squad, which also coincided with news from the Navy that they were going to finally allow women to apply to their elite Navy Seal program.

women-in-combat

Statements from both branches echoed the sentiment that if women are physically capable, why shouldn’t they be allowed to apply? In a statement shared on Time.com, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus writes that the inclusion of women in all levels of the Navy and Marines allows them to pick from a broader pool of talent, while also making a great statement for diversity.

This long-overdue move puts policy in line with reality, recognizing the critical role that women play in mission success. Women enhance the capabilities of our force, and now women will have equal – every – opportunity to do so. We will be using single occupational standards that are task-oriented and gender neutral to qualify Sailors and Marines for all positions, and we will be exercising the full potential of the talented people that make up our incomparable force,” he said.

“More costly than the dollars we lose in training, is what we lose in diversity. Diversity is vital to maintaining our exceptional fighting force, and it is more than simply demographics – it is perspective. The diversity of thought our men and women in the Navy and Marine Corps drive innovation at every level and ensure we continue to lead the world in superior capability across all domains.”

He also mentions the lift on the ban of women from serving on submarines, which took place in February 2010. Along with recognizing the need for less gender restrictions in the Navy, Secretary Mabus implemented a new law which places value on the lives of families within the military.

A few months ago, I tripled the length of maternity leave offered to female Sailors and Marines after giving birth to a child, from six to 18 weeks. I did it because it is critical to our war fighting readiness,” he said.

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Although many are hailing the move from the DOD as progressive and much-needed, there are of course some more hesitant to praise it, such as Sen. John McCain who plans to review the documentation released. Nevertheless, the decision has been made and there are a few former servicewomen who are excited about the future of women in military.

“It’s about damn time. Women have been fighting and dying for our country since its earliest wars. They have shown they can compete with the best of the best, and succeed. We are a country that looks at people as individuals, not groups. We select the best man for the job, even if it’s a woman,” said Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a retired Air Force colonel and A-10 attack jet pilot in a statement.

“I didn’t lose my legs in a bar fight — of course women can serve in combat. This decision is long overdue,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who is a veteran and former Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, now a serving member of Congress.

At a time when national security is an issue of concern to all Americans in light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and the acknowledgement that we need to remain vigilant about our safety, it is important to remember that aside from all the divisive and controversial arguments about gun control and the right to bear arms, there are men and women in the military who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to secure our freedom. We think Navy Secretary Mabus puts it perfectly in this quote about the essence of what those in the military are willing to do for us:

“Gender does not define the Service of a United States Sailor or Marine — instead, it is their character, selflessness, and abilities.”

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