By Jeanette Steele
The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Taking a historic and controversial step, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced Thursday that all U.S. military jobs will open to women, including combat roles formerly reserved for men.
That opens the door to not only infantry slots but also the elite Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces.
“Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer,” Carter said, announcing his decision at the Pentagon.
“In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent. This includes women.”
April 1st is the deadline for military branches to begin integration.
Carter acknowledged that the Marine Corps commandant asked for exceptions for roles including infantry, machine gunner and reconnaissance — the only service to do this.
A multiyear Marine Corps study determined that women were injured more often while attempting combat jobs. Also, fighting teams that included women were less effective than all-male teams.
Carter said he considered the arguments of the Marine Corps, but, “I came to a different conclusion. … I believe that we could in implementation address the issues that were raised,” though he didn’t elaborate about how.
“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.
Asked by reporters why Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford — the then-commandant of the Marine Corps and now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — was not present at the press conference, Carter said, “I was the one who took this position. I’m announcing my decision.”
But the defense secretary added that Dunford “will be with me” as the process moves forward.
Later, the leader of U.S. Special Operations Command — which oversees the Coronado-based Navy SEALs and other select units — released a video statement to his troops explaining why he supported the move to include women.
Gen. Joseph Votel, who once led the 75th Ranger Regiment in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointed to a history of women serving in special units going back to the World War II-era Office of Strategic Services, where as many as one in five was female.
He added, “I have determined that there is no compelling analytical data that would support an exception to policy for special operations.”
A statement released by Marine Corps headquarters on Thursday said the service will immediately begin the process of further implementing the policy change.
“As we move forward with full integration, we’ll continue to maintain our standards, while leveraging every opportunity to optimize individual performance,” it said.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure the men and women who earn the title ‘Marine’ will be ready to fight and win.”
Nearly 1.4 million people serve on active duty in the U.S. military, about 15 percent of whom are women. This decision will affect just a sliver of those people.
The Pentagon estimates that Carter’s decision opens up 213,600 military jobs that were previously closed to females.
In San Diego, home to about 110,000 Marines and sailors, this move will mostly affect Marine infantry and special-operations units. Among sailors, only the Navy SEALs remained closed to women in fighting jobs.
The Pentagon has been inching toward this decision point for several years, through three defense secretaries.
In January 2013, then-Secretary Leon Panetta ended the ground combat exclusion that kept women out of most direct fighting jobs. However, he gave the services until January 2016 to embrace the change or make a case for exceptions.
In the meantime, the Marine Corps conducted an experiment to see how females fared in infantry training. Similarly, the Army put a few women through Ranger school, and three graduated this year.
Thursday’s announcement may have implications for how the U.S. Selective Service System works.
Women are not required to register for what in past eras was known as the military “draft.” Meanwhile, since at least 1980, men aged 18 to 26 are legally bound to register — though the current all-volunteer force mutes the issue somewhat.
Carter said he couldn’t comment because of the litigation.
At least one lawsuit, brought by a San Diego-based group called the National Coalition for Men, challenges that only males are required to register. That case goes up on appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court next week.
There’s been speculation that Carter’s decision might hurt recruitment among women who want to serve but don’t desire combat roles.
Asked if military women can opt out of combat jobs if they choose, Carter didn’t leave much ground for that possibility.
“If you are a service member, you have some choices, but you don’t have absolute choice,” the defense secretary said.
“People are assigned to missions, tasks and functions according to need, as well as their capabilities. Women will be subject to the same standards and rules that men will.”
Carter said the change will take effect in 30 days. However, there’s speculation that it may take longer as Congress has a chance to review the decision.
The defense secretary gave a nod to concerns raised by many that the U.S. military will have to lower its physical standards in order to get enough women into combat jobs to make the integration workable.
“Equal opportunity likely will not mean equal participation by men and women,” Carter said.
“There must be no quotas or perception thereof.”
The news prompted a wave of reaction nationally. On Twitter, the hashtag #noexceptions is gaining a following.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
“Our process and studies showed that as long as someone can meet operationally relevant, occupation-specific, gender-neutral individual standards, that person is qualified to serve. Gender does not define the service of a United States sailor or Marine — instead, it is their character, selflessness and abilities.”
— Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy
“I predicted that if the secretary called for no exceptions, it would be on a Friday afternoon or day like today when the nation is distracted. I believe Secretary Carter knows he has broken his own promise to make his decision on recommendations based on the quality of research and rationale behind them.”
— Elaine Donnelly, President, Center for Military Readiness
It is a great first step, but much more needs to be done, particularly in the Marine Corps. We have a history of lowered expectations for women in terms of performance and conduct, as demonstrated by recruit training statistics for women across all graduation requirements for decades.
— Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano, former commander of female recruit battalion at Parris Island, S.C.
“I didn’t lose my legs in a bar fight–of course women can serve in combat. This decision is long overdue.”
— Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Army pilot injured in Iraq
“The only motive I can see is politics.”
— California Rep. Duncan Hunter, Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan
“Together, we’re going to make sure our military remains the finest fighting force in the history of the world, worthy of all our patriots who serve — men and women.”
— President Barack Obama
“The Senate and House Armed Services Committees intend to carefully and thoroughly review all relevant documentation related to today’s decision.”
— Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mac Thornberry of Texas
“Today, every little girl in America is one step closer to being able to fulfill her dream of truly being able to be anything she wants to be.”
— Paul Reickhoff, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America chief executive