Pentagon Opens All Combat Positions to Women, without Exception

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announces his Women in Service Review during a press brief at the Pentagon, Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by Adrian Cadiz)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced last week that all military positions will now be open to women, without exception, starting January 1, 2016. The decision means women are eligible for around 220,000 new jobs — about 10 percent of all remaining military occupations that were previously unavailable to women — for the first time, including infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and some special operations units.

“As long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways that they could not before,” Carter said in a statement.

In 2013, the Pentagon lifted a 1994 ban on women serving in combat roles, which opened up more than 111,000 jobs to women. The armed forces were given until January 2016 to implement the new ruling, and Carter’s announcement opens up further positions.

The Marine Corps had recently requested an exemption on women serving in some roles, but Carter made it clear that there would be no exceptions.

“[Women] will be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” Carter said. “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.”

In fact, women do already serve in many combat roles, albeit on an unofficial basis; more than 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since the U.S. became involved in conflicts in those countries. More than 150 women have lost their lives there, and more than 950 have been wounded in action.

Combat service is a crucial part of advancing one’s military career, and without official recognition of their participation in such roles, women are unable to move up in the ranks. Many women end up leaving the military because the jobs they seek are unavailable to them.

Critics of women serving on the frontlines argue that the physical and mental requirements are too strenuous for women, but Carter said the decision is based on recommendations made by senior civilian and military leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command units.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and a veteran of the Vietnam War, commended the decision.

“Secretary Carter’s decision to open all combat positions to women will have a consequential impact on our service members and our military’s war-fighting capabilities,” he said in a statement. “The Congress has an essential constitutional role to make rules for the government and regulations of our nation’s armed forces.”