WASHINGTON • In a historic transformation of the United States military, the Pentagon will open up all combat jobs to women.
"There will be no exceptions," Defence Secretary Ash Carter told a news conference. "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."
The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that had restricted women from combat roles - even though women often found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years. It is the latest in a long march of inclusive steps by the military, including racial integration in 1948 and the lifting of the ban on gays in the military in 2011.
The decision this week will open about 220,000 military jobs to women. The military faced a deadline set by the Obama administration three years ago to integrate women into all combat jobs by next month or ask for specific exemptions.
NO HOLDS BARRED
There will be no exceptions. 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 previously open only to men.
US DEFENCE SECRETARY ASH CARTER
The navy and air force have already opened almost all combat positions to women, and the army has also increasingly integrated its forces.
The announcement on Thursday was a rebuke to the Marine Corps, which is a 93 per cent male force dominated by infantry and a culture that still segregates recruits by gender for basic training. In September, the Marines requested an exemption for infantry and armour positions, citing a year-long study that showed integration could hurt its fighting ability. But Mr Carter said he overruled the Marines because the military should operate under a common set of standards.
General Joseph Dunford Jr, former commandant of the Marine Corps who recently became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not attend the announcement, and in a statement on Thursday appeared to give only tepid support. He said: "I have had the opportunity to provide my advice on the issue of full integration of women into the armed forces. In the wake of the secretary's decision, my responsibility is to ensure his decision is properly implemented."
Women have long chafed under the combat restrictions, which allowed them to serve in combat zones, often under fire, but prevented them from officially holding combat positions, including in the infantry, which remain crucial to career advancement.
Mr Carter said that women would be allowed to serve in all military combat roles by early next year. He said the historic shift was necessary. Many women hailed the decision. "I'm overjoyed," said Ms Katelyn van Dam, an attack helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps who has been deployed to Afghanistan. "Now if there is some little girl who wants to be a tanker, no one can tell her she can't."
Some in the military have privately voiced concern that integration will prove impractical, especially in the infantry where heavy loads and long periods of deprivation are part of the job.
"Humping a hundred pounds, man, that isn't easy, and it remains the defining physical requirement of the infantry," said Mr Paul Davis, an exercise scientist who did a multi-year study of the Marine infantry. "The practical reality is that even though we want to knock down this last bastion of exclusion, the preponderance of women will not be able to do the job."
Mr Carter acknowledged at the news conference that simply opening up combat roles to women was not going to lead to a fully integrated military. Senior defence officials and military officers would have to overcome the perception among many service members that the change would reduce the effectiveness of the armed services.
THE NEW YORK TIMES