In a historic decision, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has opened up all military combat jobs to women ending a decades-long ban on serving in front-line units. Carter has given the military services until Jan. 1 to present a timeline for implementing the historic change by April 1.
Carter's decision overrides a recommendation made by the Marine Corps that women should continue not being allowed to serve in its combat units.
After lengthy reviews, the Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command had recommended that women should be allowed to serve in their infantry and armored units.
“Today, I'm announcing my decision not to make continued exceptions, that is, to proceed with opening all these remaining occupations and positions to women,” said Carter. “ There will be no exceptions.”
Carter said that as long as they meet standards “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.”
Carter explained that he had not agreed with the Marine Corps recommendation that women should not be allowed to serve in certain combat jobs because “we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force.”
While current high standards for certain jobs will remain “fairness is also important, because everyone who's able and willing to serve their country, who can meet those standards, should have the full and equal opportunity to do so. But the important factor in making my decision was to have access to every American who could add strength to the joint force.”
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while serving as Commandant of the Marine Corps had approved the recommendation that would continue to restrict women from certain combat jobs.
Carter said he had come to “a different conclusion” than the Marine Corps recommendation “and I believe that the issues raised, including by the Marine Corps, could be addressed successfully in implementation.”
“In the wake of the Secretary’s decision, my responsibility is to ensure his decision is properly implemented,” said Dunford in a statement .” Moving forward my focus is to lead 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.”
Carter directed the services to provide timelines in January, 2016 for how they would implement integration of female service members into all unit combat units by April of next year. Women would still have to qualify and meet the standards set for the positions now open to them.
In January 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a timetable for the military services to submit plans for how they would lift restrictions in place since 1994 that banned women from serving in combat units.
The services provided plans for reviews and evaluations to determine how that could be done. A target date of January 2016 was established for the Defense Secretary to decide on whether to grant the services exemptions for specific combat jobs that should not be opened to women.
Some of the most high-profile evaluations were carried out by the Army that, for the first time, allowed women to try out for the elite Ranger School. Three female soldiers successfully completed the course leading the Army to quickly decide that it would no longer ban women from competing to earn the Ranger tab.
Carter said Thursday that the reviews by the services found that some standards were either outdated or didn't reflect the tasks actually required in combat. Now using real-world operational requirements Carter said “we're positioned to be better at finding not only the most qualified women, but also the qualified men for military specialties.”
Since Panetta's decision, the military services have opened up job specialties formerly restricted to women that add up to 111,000 positions now available for female service members, according to the Pentagon.
With Carter’s decision an additional 220,000 positions to women in uniform.