WASHINGTON, D.C. — Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced during a press conference Dec. 3 that all occupations in the U.S. military will be open to men and women alike.
The announcement came after a thorough review of findings from the last three years of studies, and the subsequent recommendation of service secretaries and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“This decision means that we will be able to maximize our military effectiveness because we’ll be able to draw from a larger pool of skilled and qualified individuals,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “The bottom line is to ensure the force’s future success based on validated, gender-neutral standards.”
According to Carter, within 30 days, all currently closed occupations will be open and available for the assignment of women or men. The services will begin implementing their current plans for recruiting, accessing and initial training of women in these occupations.
“Our Air Force is more effective when success is based on ability, qualifications, and mission performance,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “While not everyone aspires to be a Battlefield Airman, those who have the desire and are qualified will be afforded an opportunity to serve in those specialties in our Air Force. As with any new policy, implementation will take time and will be done in a deliberate and responsible manner.”
Carter said Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will oversee the decision’s short-term implementation, ensure there are no unintended consequences to the joint force, and periodically update Carter and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Women will be fully integrated into combat roles deliberately and methodically, Carter said, using seven guidelines.
1. Implementation will be pursued with the objective of improved force effectiveness.
2. Leaders must assign tasks and jobs throughout the force based on ability, not gender.
3. Equal opportunity likely will not mean equal participation by men and women in all specialties, and there will be no quotas.
4. Studies conducted by the services and U.S. Special Operations Command indicate that on average there are physical and other differences between men and women, and implementation will take this into account.
5. The department will address the fact that some surveys suggest that some service members, men and women, will perceive that integration could damage combat effectiveness.
6. Particularly in the specialties that are newly open to women, survey data and the judgment of service leaders indicate that the performance of small teams is important.
7. The United States and some of its closest friends and allies are committed to having militaries that include men and women, but not all nations share this perspective.
Integrating women in all military jobs
Implementation won’t happen overnight, Carter said.
“Fully integrating women into all military positions will make the U.S. armed forces better and stronger but there will be problems to fix and challenges to overcome,” he said. “We shouldn’t diminish that.”
The military has long prided itself on being a meritocracy, where those who serve are judged only on what they have to offer to help defend the country, Carter said.
“That’s why we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” he said, “and it’s one other way we will strive to ensure that the force of the future remains so, long into the future.”