After long periods of study and vigorous debate over the idea of women on the front lines in battle, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced today that he was tossing the entire issue out the window and that the United States military would be opening “all combat roles” to women at the beginning of the year. This from NBC News.
In a historic shift in policy, the Pentagon will open all combat jobs to women, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday.
“Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best America has to offer,” Carter told reporters during a Pentagon press conference. “This includes women.”
Women will now be able to help fill some of the 220,000 roles that are currently only open to their male counterparts — positions that include some special operations units and infantry — among other roles.
The policy change will take effect in 30 days, Carter said.
“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. “They’ll be able to drive tanks, give orders, lead infantry soldiers into combat.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but it mostly boils down to politics as opposed to military strategy or the wishes of our commanders. Of course, Carter includes a key caveat in his announcement, specifically that the positions will be open to anyone as long as they qualify and meet the standards. For a lot of these roles this is going to amount to a de facto disqualifier for women seeking any of the more dangerous and strenuous roles. Even the women who finished Ranger training recently were met with skepticism among the ranks as to whether or not they’d really passed the course at the same level as their male counterparts.
But the politics of the question is bound to not sit well with the top brass in some quarters. The Navy and Air Force had already said they were opening the ranks to women, a not terribly surprising move because the physical requirements aren’t quite as stiff as those for combat troops. (The issue of how much it will cost for separate facilities on ships for women at sea can be tackled another day.) The prime example of dispute, however, is the Marines, who previously asked for an exemption from the new guidelines. After a lengthy period of testing they found that women in Marine training were injured at a far higher rate than their male counterparts, were less accurate with weapons and they were simply unable to complete many of the required tasks. Carter had a response ready for the Marines, though.
On Thursday, Carter made clear that “there will be no exceptions” to allowing women capable of fulfilling duties from serving in all combat roles.
“I came to a different conclusion,” Carter said of the data provided by the Marines.
So Ash Carter, sitting in his office in Washington, D.C. chatting with President Obama, having never served a day of his life in uniform or seeing one second of combat, came to a different conclusion than the Marines did. That’s got to come as a great comfort to our guys.
For a more in-depth view of my take on women in combat, feel free to read this lengthy essay I wrote three years ago. But for now it looks like it’s a brave new world in our military. Best of luck, ladies.