Public statements from the Pentagon since it removed the ban on direct ground combat jobs for women signal that the armed services plan to change their physical standards to ensure integration of the sexes, analysts say.
A review of news conferences and congressional testimony shows that the top brass repeatedly use the word "validate" — not necessarily "retain" — when talking about ongoing studies of tasks to qualify for infantry, armored and special operations jobs.
In other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the argument that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant.
A compilation of the studies' results will play a major role in late 2015, when the services decide which combat jobs to open or keep closed to women.
Senior officers for the first time also are stressing the mental aspect of ground combat, not just physical strength and endurance. Analysts say that is another sign that the military is looking at different ways to ensure that women qualify.
"There will be a move to create a critical mass of young women in certain ground combat units," said Robert L. Maginnis, a former Army officer with a new book, "Deadly Consequences: How Cowards Are Pushing Women Into Combat."
"It will begin as an 'experiment,' and meanwhile there will be a whittling away of standards — gender-norming — regarding what is required to graduate from certain schools, such as Army Rangers," Mr. Maginnis said. "The administration and its ideological radical feminist soul mates are willing to accept less effectiveness at the point of the spear in order to put women into every last military occupational specialty."
A sample of how the Pentagon is leaving the door open to lowering, or jettisoning, standards:
• Juliet Beyler, the Pentagon's director of officer and enlisted personnel management, told a House Armed Services subcommittee in July that "each service and [U.S. Special Operations Command] intends to execute the guidance to review and validate all occupational standards to ensure that they are occupationally and operationally relevant."
• Army Maj. Gen. Bennet S. Sacolick of Special Operations Command told the same panel that commando standards must be "decisively tied to an operational requirement."
• Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, deputy chief of staff for Army personnel, told reporters in June: "Whatever you want to pick, you've got to be absolutely certain that that performance can be understood and then applied in a combat situation because this isn't to set anybody up for failure. This is all about success."
• Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in January that if a standard keeps women out of a combat job, the military branch had better have a good argument for keeping it.
"If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn't make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, 'Why is it that high?'" Gen. Dempsey said. "Does it really have to be that high? With the direct combat exclusion provision in place, we never had to have that conversation."
Same standards for all
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, won passage of language in the pending defense budget bill that says any standard lowered for women also must be lowered for men. The logic behind the measure is that the military does not want less-capable men staffing combat units.
Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, predicts the military will lower some standards for both sexes to please political leaders.
"Despite denials today, the Marines will retain a number of less-qualified men just to please Congress by assigning a few women to direct ground combat units," Ms. Donnelly said. "They will also drop tough training standards deemed to be 'unfair' to women. The practice will employ 'equal' standards that are lower than they are now."
Use of the word "validate" by the top brass to describe studies underway, she said, means that "since the goal is to increase 'diversity,' the only standards that will be rated 'valid' are those that promote gender diversity."
The military also is considering different training techniques to get women to the point where they can meet all combat qualification standards.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts Democrat, quoted a woman now involved in setting combat standards: "Her comment was that, 'Yes, you want the standards to be gender-neutral. But you may need to train to these standards in different ways in order for women to have success.'"
Then there is the brain power it takes to qualify for the gritty job of fighting on the ground day in, day out.
Senior leaders now are ranking mental qualifications on an even footing with physical prowess.
"The psychological piece is equally important to this as the physical," Lt. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr., deputy Marine commandant for manpower, said at the House Armed Services subcommittee hearing in July.
Army Gen. Bromberg said, "I think we're all realizing that the mental agility required of today's tasks are much more than we realized in the past."
Mr. Maginnis, an artillery officer by training, said that, in the end, the commanders are looking for killers.
"Smart people, male and female, don't necessarily make good killers," he said. "Bottom line, we need people willing to kill in very tough places, and men have many natural advantages."
Rep. Joseph J. Heck, Nevada Republican and a colonel in the Army Reserve, made a prediction about what the military will announce in late 2014.
"You may find a standard that, through the validation process, is going to be made lower, easier, less than what is currently in place," Mr. Heck told the generals at the hearing. "And you're going to have somebody turn around and try to change that scientific validation into an argument of 'You're artificially lowering a standard.'"
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