The Defense Department announced today changes to its assignment policy which will result in 14,325 additional positions being opened to women.
"Women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military's mission. Through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill, women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said. "We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so."
In a report required by the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, the department notified Congress today it intends to make two changes to rules in place since 1994 governing the service of female members of the armed forces: first, occupations will no longer be closed to women solely because the positions are required to be co-located with ground combat units; and second, a sizable number of positions will be opened to women at the battalion level in select direct ground combat units in specific occupations. The services also will continuously assess their experience with these changes to help determine future changes to the 1994 rules.
"The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened, ensuring the mission is met with the best qualified and most capable, regardless of gender," Panetta said.
The 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule articulated five basic elements informing decisions on the service of women in the military: direct ground combat; berthing and privacy; co-location; long range reconnaissance and special operations forces; and physically demanding tasks.
The 1994 DoD policy allowed women to be restricted from some occupational specialties if those specialties were physically co-located with direct ground combat units. Because the modern-day battlefield is non-linear and fluid, with no clearly defined front line or safer rear area, combat support operations are dispersed throughout the battlespace. Removal of the co-location exclusion will result in 13,139 Army positions being opened to women, in specialties such as tank mechanic and field artillery radar operator.
Additionally, the 1994 policy prohibited women from being assigned below brigade level to units whose principal mission was to engage in combat. The Army, Marines and Navy have been granted exceptions to policy to allow select positions at the battalion level in specialties already open to women, opening 1,186 additional positions. These exceptions to policy will help the services assess the suitability and relevance of the direct ground combat unit assignment prohibition, and inform future policy decisions.
Regarding other policy restrictions, the department recognizes there are practical barriers that require time to resolve to ensure the services maximize the safety and privacy of all service members while maintaining military readiness. Building upon analysis and experience, the services will develop gender-neutral physical standards for use by all members.
"Gender-neutral physical standards ensure all members can meet the physical demands of the duties they are assigned," acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jo Ann Rooney said, "ultimately contributing to higher states of readiness through an increased understanding of the demands we place upon our members and by preventing injuries."
Panetta directed the services to update him in six months on assignment policy implementation and the progress made developing gender-neutral physical standards.
As required by law, these changes to policy will take effect after 30 days of continuous session of Congress, which is expected to occur later this spring.
The report can be viewed at http://www.defense.gov/news/WISR_Report_to_Congress.pdf .