WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 24, 2013) — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey signed a memo this afternoon, paving the way for more women to serve in direct combat roles and in more military occupational specialties that are now open only to males.
The memo rescinds the 1994 DOD “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule,” which states in part: “Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”
The memo does not spell out which military occupational specialties, known as MOSs, will be open to women. Rather, it directs the services to provide their implementation strategies to the DOD by May 2013. Implementation will begin this year and be completed by 2015, Panetta added.
The reason some MOSs in the past were closed was “due to permissible restrictions such as co-location, direct ground combat, privacy and berthing, special operations or long-range reconnaissance,” according to the February 2012 DOD “Report to Congress on the Review of Laws, Policies and Regulations Restricting the Service of Female Members in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
“This year we will begin to assign women to previously closed occupations using clear standards of performance in all occupational specialties,” Dempsey said.
“The burden of proof used to be ‘why should a woman serve in a particular specialty?'” he added. “Now, it’s ‘why shouldn’t a woman serve in a particular specialty?'”
As of September, 418 of the Army’s 438 MOSs were open to women of all ranks, according to an Oct. 31 Army report “Women in the Army.”
“Soldiers, both men and women, want fair and meaningful standards” to be developed for accepting women into previously restricted MOSs, said Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, at a Pentagon media roundtable following the DOD press conference.
“I think that fairness is very important in a values-based organization like our Army,” Cone said.
TRADOC has already been studying armies in other countries where women have successfully been integrated into combat MOSs, countries like Canada and Israel.
The Army will be “looking at knowledge, skills and attributes of Soldiers and get the best match in specialties (now restricted) like infantry, armor, field artillery and engineers,” Cone said, adding that one of the important attributes is physical requirements. “Soldiers don’t want to see (that) degraded.”
Objective assessments and validation studies, many of which have already been completed, will look at each requirement by MOS, he said. Tasks include things like “how much does an infantryman have to lift, how much stuff do they have to carry and for what distance.”
Once the validations are done, scientists will then develop MOS-specific physical fitness tests, Cone continued. Then those tests will in turn be validated with field studies.
Besides physical ability, the Army will look at “traditional impediments,” meaning the attitudes regarding the acceptance of women into previously male-only MOSs, he said. “A lot of this is about leadership and the organizational climate.”
The Army will take “proactive measures to mitigate resistance to women going into these specialties,” Cone concluded. “We want the right environment for women.”
The commander in chief approved the actions of Panetta and Dempsey today, as well as the work that the Army is taking to open up MOSs for women.
President Obama released a statement that reads in part: “By moving to open more military positions, including ground combat units, to women, our armed forces have taken another historic step toward harnessing the talents and skills of all our citizens.
“This milestone reflects the courageous and patriotic service of women through more than two centuries of American history and the indispensable role of women in today’s military.
“Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, including more than 150 women who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, patriots whose sacrifices show that valor knows no gender.”