Pentagon plan expands women's roles in military
The proposed regulations, expected to take effect this summer, would allow women to serve in noninfantry battalion jobs, such as radio operators, intelligence analysts, medics, radar operators, and tank mechanics.
The Washington Post
Coming changesEXAMPLES OF changes for women in the military:
Army: Among the jobs that will be opened to women for the first time are tank and armored-troop-carrier mechanic, artillery-radar operator and rocket-launcher crew member.
Navy: Minimal change. Eighty-eight percent of positions already are open to women.
Marine Corps: No new jobs, such as tank driver, will be opened to women. Women will be allowed to perform already open jobs, such as supply officer, in units such as artillery battalions and tank battalions that had been closed.
Air Force: Ninety-nine percent of positions already are open to women. The few remaining restrictions are in special-operations forces and ground-combat units.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will maintain bans on women serving in most ground combat units, defense officials said Thursday, despite pressure from lawmakers and female veterans who called the restrictions outdated after a decade at war.
After taking more than a year to review its policies on orders from Congress, the Defense Department said it would open about 14,000 combat-related positions to women, including tank mechanics and intelligence officers on the front lines.
But the Pentagon said it would keep 238,000 other positions — about one-fifth of the regular active-duty military — off-limits to women, pending further reviews. Virtually all of those jobs are in the Army and Marine Corps.
The proposed regulations, expected to take effect this summer, would allow women to serve in noninfantry battalion jobs, such as radio operators, intelligence analysts, medics, radar operators, and tank mechanics. They could be "co-located" with combat forces, such as supply convoys in areas of fighting.
The new rules will break down more of the official barriers that have restricted the military positions women can take. The rules are being sent to Congress, and if lawmakers take no action after 30 work days, the policy will take effect.
Pentagon officials said they were committed to lifting barriers to women, but it was difficult to make sweeping changes on the battlefield during wartime.
"Sometimes this takes longer than you'd like," said Virginia Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military-personnel policy. "It may appear too slow to some, but I see this as a great step forward."
In the 1970s, Penrod recalled, she was one of the first women allowed to serve at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Female troops had previously been banned there because it was "too cold," she said.
Advocates for women in the military, however, accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet and only belatedly recognizing the critical role that female troops have played in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They said many of the job openings announced on Thursday merely codify the reality on the battlefield, where commanders have stretched rules for years to allow women to bear arms and support ground combat units.
Because service in combat gives troops an advantage for promotions and job opportunities, it has been more difficult for women to move to the higher ranks.
Since 2001, about 280,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Defense Department statistics; 144 have been killed and 865 have been wounded.
A 1994 Pentagon policy bans women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. A brigade is roughly 3,500 troops split into several battalions of about 800 soldiers each. Historically, brigades were based farther from the front lines and they often include top command and support staff, while battalions — now open to women — are usually in closer contact with the enemy.
In March, a congressional panel recommended the ban on women serving in ground combat units be overturned as part of a broader effort to increase diversity in the armed forces, particularly in the officer ranks.
Congress separately ordered the Defense Department to review the ban and submit recommendations. That review was due last April, but the Pentagon took an extra 10 months to complete it.
Part of the reason for the delay was that the military was in the midst of another big social change: repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which prevented gay troops from serving openly. The ban was lifted in September.
Women in the Army and Marine Corps face the most job restrictions, with each barring them from serving in about one-third of its positions.
In contrast, the Air Force excludes women from 1 percent of its positions, and the Navy places about 12 percent of its jobs off-limits.
Military officials have said they keep many positions off-limits because most women don't have the same strength as men. But some female veterans questioned why the Pentagon has been slow to adopt gender-neutral physical requirements for such jobs. Maybe only a few women would qualify, they said, but they should be allowed to try.
"It takes training. Every athlete knows that," said Anu Bhagwati, a retired Marine captain who served as a martial-arts instructor and held a black belt in close-combat techniques. "We want to do everything that the guys are doing, within limits. Not all of us want to be in the infantry, but not all the guys do, either."
She said some of the resistance to change was cultural. The Marine Corps, she said, still segregates male and female recruits for basic training, the only service to do so.
The Pentagon said it found no evidence that the existing job exclusions limited career advancement for women.
Women make up about 14 percent of the active-duty military, but only about 7 percent of the roster of generals and admirals.
The armed forces have been making gradual progress on that front. The Air Force this month nominated Janet Wolfenbarger, a commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, to become its first female four-star general.
Last year, the Marine Corps assigned Brig. Gen. Loretta Reynolds to become the first female commanding officer of its iconic recruiting depot on Parris Island, S.C.
Some military leaders have said it is only a matter of time before the remaining barriers for women are repealed.
Last month, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of the Army, said on the eve of his retirement that banning women from combat jobs was an anachronism. "There is this mistaken belief that somehow through prohibiting women in combat jobs we can protect them," he said. "I would rather have standards that we apply across the board."
Material from The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers
is included in this report.