A female Marine goes through an obstacle course, one of the tasks of the combat endurance test.(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
By Tom Vanden Brook and Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the military's
ban on women serving in combat, a move that will allow women into
hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite
commando units, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.
currently serve in a number of combat positions, including piloting
warplanes or serving on ships in combat areas. Since the start of the
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 292,000 women have served in those combat
zones out of a total of almost 2.5 million, Pentagon records show. In
both wars, 152 women have died from combat or noncombat causes, records
show, and 958 have been wounded in action.
The move will be
announced officially Thursday afternoon by Panetta and Army Gen. Martin
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the official, who
spoke anonymously because Panetta had not yet made the announcement.
policy restricting women from serving in combat on the ground was
modified in 1994, according to the Congressional Research Service. Women
cannot be assigned below the brigade level -- a unit of about 3,500
troops -- to fight on the ground. Effectively, that has barred women
from infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers and special operations
units of battalion size -- about 700 troops -- or lower.
services will have until January 2016 to implement the changes, the
official said. Last year, Panetta opened up an additional 15,000 jobs to
women. He ordered the remaining exclusions lifted because he had been
committed to doing so since taking office, the official said.
The chiefs of the services unanimously support the change in policy, the defense official said.
move comes as Panetta prepares to leave office. President Obama has
nominated Republican former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam
combat veteran, to take his place.
The policy change requires notifying Congress, which must have 30 days to consider it.
Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and Iraq war veteran, criticized
the announcement, saying "it is totally out of left field. Completely."
question you've got to ask yourself every single time you make a change
like this is: Does it increase the combat effectiveness of the
military?...I think the answer is no," Hunter said.
Military services may seek special exceptions to the new policy if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.
official said the services will develop plans for allowing women to
seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year.
Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including
Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force, may take longer.
service will be charged with developing policies to integrate women into
every military job. For instance, the defense official said, it's
likely the Army will establish a set of physical requirements for
infantry soldiers. The candidate, man or woman, will have to lift a
certain amount of weight in order to qualify. The standards will be
The official said the military chiefs must report back to Panetta with their initial implementation plans by May 15.
This decision could open more than 230,000 jobs, many in Army and Marine infantry units, to women.
recent years, the necessities of war propelled women into jobs as
medics, military police and intelligence officers that were sometimes
attached - but not formally assigned - to units on the front lines.
Women make up 14% of the 1.4 million active military personnel.
the policy will cause few problems, the official said. A few troops
won't like it, the official said, but most have seen women deployed and
accept it already. It's likely to have the same effect as the repeal of
Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the policy that allowed gays and lesbians to
serve but required them to hide their sexuality.
"The effect of that?" the official said. "A big zero."