Washington: In a historic decision, the Pentagon has decided to open up all positions including frontline combat roles to women, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter has announced.
“We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country’s talents and skills. We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards,” Carter told reporters at a Pentagon news conference yesterday.
Over the years, in particular during the last seven years of Obama Administration, armed forces was gradually opened up for women. However, approximately 10 per cent of positions in the military currently remain closed to women, including infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and some special operations units.
“Today, I’m announcing my decision not to make continued exceptions, that is, to proceed with opening all these remaining occupations and positions to women. 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,” Carter said.
“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 para jumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men,” he said.
“Even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer,” he said.
No exceptions was the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Air Force, and the secretary of the Navy, as well as the chief of staff of the Army, chief of staff of the Air Force, chief of Naval operations, and the commander of US Special Operations Command.
“While the Marine Corps asked for a partial exception in some areas such as infantry, machine gunner, fire support reconnaissance and others, we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force,” Carter said.
Carter said he has now directed seven guidelines to be used to steer this implementation.
“First, implementation must be pursued with the clear
objective of improved force effectiveness. Leaders must emphasise that objective to all service members, men and women alike,” he said.
“Secondly, Leaders must assign tasks and jobs throughout the force based on ability, not gender. Advancement must be based on objective and validated standards. The third guideline is that for a variety of reasons, equal opportunity likely will not mean equal participation by men and women in all specialities,” he added.
Noting that the studies conducted by the services indicate there are physical and other differences on average between men and women, he said while this cannot be applied to every man or woman, it is real and must be taken into account in implementation.
“Fifth, We’ll have to address the fact that some surveys suggest that some service members, both men and women, have a perception that integration would be pursued at the cost of combat effectiveness,” he said.
“Sixth, both survey data and the judgement of the services leadership strongly indicate that particularly in the specialities that will be opened, the performance of small teams is important, even as individual performance is important,” he added.
“The seventh guideline has to do with international realities. While we know the US is a nation committed to using our entire population to the fullest, as are some of our closest friends and allies, we also know that not all nations share this perspective,” he said.
“Our military has long dealt with this reality, notably, over the last 15 years in Iraq and also Afghanistan. We will need to be prepared to do so going forward as it bears on the specialities that will be opened by this decision,” Carter said.