The United States military will open all combat roles to women, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Thursday.
“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,” revealed Carter while briefing reporters at the Pentagon.
“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 parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men,” he added, in a historic move abolishing gender barriers in the U.S. armed forces. “And even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.”
The Marine Corps requested an exception, but it was overridden by Carter, who argued that the branch’s request could be addressed.
“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,” the defense secretary told reporters.
“I viewed the issues that were raised by all the services, by the way, in varying degrees, and obviously by the Marine Corps, that we needed to take those seriously and address them in implementation. And I believe that the issues raised, including by the Marine Corps, could be addressed successfully in implementation,” Carter declared.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Marine commandant, in a prepared statement, said he had given Carter his best advice on the matter and will now focus on leading “the full integration of women in a manner that maintains our joint warfighting capability, ensures the health and welfare of our people, and optimizes how we leverage talent across the joint force.”
President Barack Obama, in a statement, referred to the Pentagon’s move as “historic step forward” that would “make our military even stronger.”
“Our armed forces will draw on an even wider pool of talent. Women who can meet the high standards required will have new opportunities to serve,” the president said.
Prior to opening the combat roles to women, there will be a 30-day review period, starting Thursday, during which the military services are expected to “provide their updated implementation plans for integrating women into these positions,” explained Carter.
After the review, women will be integrated into the new roles in a “deliberate and methodical manner” as positions become available.
Congress will be able to review the decision and raise any objections during the 30-day period, noted Reuters.
“Carter’s order opens the final 10 percent of military positions to women – a total of about 220,000 jobs,” reports The Associated Press (AP). “And it allows them to serve in the most demanding and difficult jobs, including as special operations forces, such as the Army Delta units and Navy SEALs.”
The Pentagon chief conceded that the move could lead to more discussion over whether women should have to register for the draft, an issue he noted is already under litigation.
Currently, the U.S. military is an all-volunteer force, but young men are still required to register in case the draft is reinstated.
When asked whether the move would require women to participate in combat missions, Carter responded, “Absolutely. If you’re a service member, you have some choices, but you don’t have absolute choice.”
“People are assigned to missions, tasks, and functions according to need as well as their capabilities,” he added. “And women will be subject to the same standard and rules that men will.”
The move drew the ire of the Republican chairmen of the armed services committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers welcomed the decision.
“Secretary Carter’s decision to open all combat positions to women will have a consequential impact on our service members and our military’s war fighting capabilities,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the chairman of the armed services committees, said in a statement.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Rep. Niki Tongas (MA), Democratic members of the armed services panels, welcomed the Pentagon’s move, calling it a “long overdue” decision that would eliminate some of the hurdles to advancement that women face in the military.
“Carter’s decision comes nearly three years after the Pentagon first instructed the military to open all positions to qualified women, including front-line combat roles,” notes Reuters.
An estimated 30,000 women deployed to the conflict zones and Iraq and Afghanistan. They represented nearly 2 percent of U.S. military casualties there.
Three women recently became the first to take and pass the Army’s difficult Ranger course.