- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top defense officials are grappling to find a unified position on whether to allow women in direct ground combat, as the Pentagon prepares a landmark report to Congress on the military’s coed future.

In the wake of two wars in which women have exchanged fire with the enemy, the Pentagon is being pressed to scrap the ban on women serving below the brigade level in units whose main mission is direct ground combat. That means women may not be infantry members or Green Berets.

“It is the subject of ongoing discussions but not yet fully resolved,” a senior Pentagon official said when asked whether Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a recommendation for Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

The chiefs and Mr. Panetta are being pressed to present their views now because Congress passed a bill ordering the services to conduct a review and submit it this year.


Asked for Mr. Panetta’s position, a second defense official said: “I think the secretary is still weighing the ultimate recommendations that are being worked, and the report is not complete. So I’m not sure I can add to that at this point.”

Because the exclusion is a policy, not a law, Mr. Panetta could lift the restrictions on all or some jobs after notifying Congress.

The Obama administration needed congressional approval to remove the codified ban on open gays in the ranks, which happened Sept. 20.

ArmyGen. Raymond T. Odierno, a Joint Chiefs member, has gone on record as saying he wants some restrictions lifted. He said he disagreed with the Army’s report, which was completed before he became chief and was submitted to Mr. Panetta. It apparently recommends the status quo.

On the WUSA-TV program “This Week in Defense News,” Gen. Odierno said female intelligence and signal officers, for example, should be able to serve below the brigade level in combat battalions.

“We need them there. We need their talent,” the Army chief said. “This is about managing talent. We have incredibly talented females who should be in those positions. So I have to work toward us taking a better look at that.

“We have work to do within the [Defense Department] to get them to recognize and change. We did not get there at this time in this report, and I’m focused on this and I’m going to spend some time on it.”

Gen. Odierno did not endorse women as infantry, armor or special operations soldiers in the interview. His spokeswoman declined to comment this week.

The chiefs are said to be studying at least three options:

• Leave the combat policy in place.

• Open some roles in battalions but maintain the ban on special operations and spots where physical requirements would prevent the vast majority of women from qualifying.

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