After “exceptional work,” the U.S. military is authorized to begin integrating women across all occupations and specialties “right away,” according to a Defense Department statement released March 10.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook briefed reporters on Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision and the accompanying statement.
Carter “formally approved the final implementation plans prepared by the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command to integrate women into all combat roles,” Cook said.
In the statement, Carter said the department must handle the change “the right way, because the combat effectiveness of the world’s finest fighting force is paramount.”
Cook noted that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva co-chaired an implementation group tasked with a detailed review of the plans.
The review was the culmination of years of studies and reports going back to 2011, when then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ordered an examination of all laws and policies governing the assignment of women in the armed forces.
Carter’s seven “guiding principles” for integration shaped the implementation group’s review of the services and Socom’s final plans: transparent standards, population size, physical demands and physiological differences, conduct and culture, talent management, operating abroad, and assessment and adjustment.
Carter wrote a Medium post detailing his views on the implementation plans. In the post, the secretary gave some behind-the-scenes details on what the studies and reviews turned up.
“We found over the last few years that in some cases we were doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them,” Carter wrote. For example, he said, the 35-pound weight carried by marchers in their rucksacks during the Army’s Expert Infantry Badge qualification was based on a World War II-era airborne study.
“It was the minimum weight required to prevent the rucksack from getting tangled in a jumper’s static line, and had nothing to do with the equipment required for paratroopers to fight with once they landed — let alone the modern equipment that infantry soldiers need to carry today,” Carter noted.
The study and work that has gone into opening all military jobs to women “drove us to take a closer look at our training, too,” the secretary wrote.
Carter wrote that the department’s performance standards are now informed by real-world operational requirements and the experiences gained in Iraq and Afghanistan. “As a result, our military will be even better at finding and training not only the most-qualified women, but also the most-qualified men, for all military specialties,” he wrote.
Carter has said throughout his tenure that the integration process will mean equal opportunity for, not equal participation by, women service members.
“Integration provides equal opportunity for men and women who can perform the tasks required; it does not guarantee women will be promoted at any specific number or at any set rate, as adherence to a merit-based system must continue to be paramount,” the secretary wrote.
Carter noted, “We have to remember that it takes decades to grow a general or flag officer, so it will take time to see these results.”