- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat and will begin allowing female service members to hold any jobs for which they qualify, including special operations, over the next few years, according to a memo from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the secretary of defense.

“The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey says in the memo, dated Jan. 9. The Washington Times obtained a copy of the memo.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously join me in proposing that we move forward with the full intent to integrate women into occupational fields to the maximum extent possible,” Gen. Dempsey wrote. “To implement these initiatives successfully and without sacrificing our war-fighting capability or the trust of the American people, we need time to get it right.”

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, said his service will open to women its seven career fields that currently are closed to them — all in special operations.

“We fully support the removal of the exclusion. We just need to move forward,” Gen. Welsh told The Times. “We’ve got to figure out how to get it done, and if there is some career field where it ends up being impossible for reasons that everybody can understand, then we can request an exemption.”

The Pentagon has long banned women from serving in the infantry, special operations forces and other units that would put them in direct combat situations.

Advocates for placing women in combat roles have said female service members have proved themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics have argued that women on average are not physically built for ground combat and that placing them in combat would hurt cohesion in all-male units.

In February, the Defense Department partially lifted the ban to allow women to serve in units below the brigade level and closer to potential battlefields. As a result, 14,325 positions — mostly in the Army — were opened to females.

The Dempsey memo calling for the full lifting of the ban was released after four women filed a lawsuit in November against the Defense Department, saying the ban is unconstitutional and has hurt their military careers. Female troops account for about 14.5 percent of the 1.4 million-member active-duty force.

Titled “Women in the Service Implementation Plan,” the Dempsey memo outlines the steps the armed services intend to take to put women in combat jobs:

• The services will expand the number of units and the number of women assigned to those units that were opened to them last year, and provide periodic progress reports each quarter beginning in the third quarter of fiscal 2013.

• The services will “develop, review and validate” job standards, and gender-neutral job standards will be used no later than September.

• The services and U.S. Special Operations Command will “proceed in a deliberate, measured and responsible way” to assign women to jobs that are closed to them as physical standards and operational assessments are met. The services and SOCOM must complete all studies by the first quarter of 2016.

• The Navy will continue to assign women to ships as changes to allow female privacy and berthing, female leadership assignments and ship schedules permit.

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