- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2015

U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command has found no barriers to integrating women into all-male SEAL teams, a finding that greatly increases the chances that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will open the units to females by January.

The command has completed studies ordered in 2013, including one that examined the physical standards for becoming a SEAL as well as study of the unit that killed Osama bin Laden and has conducted hundreds of other counterterrorism missions against Islamic extremists.

The Navy validated that each demanding standard remains relevant to the occupation of a SEAL and that none should be lowered, a special operations source told The Washington Times.

Furthermore, commanders do not see the standards, or other issues, such as mixed-sex teams in isolated austere locations, as a barrier if women have what it takes to pass the physical challenges.

“We don’t see anything that will prevent us from moving forward with our integration,” the source said. “We don’t see any barriers to being able to integrate females into Navy special warfare.”

The final approval process will play out this year. In the fall, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, will make recommendations to Mr. Carter on now-closed SEAL positions, as well as other exclusively male units such as the Army’s Green Berets, Rangers and Delta Force.

According to timelines set up by then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who revoked the ban on women in direct ground combat, Mr. Carter will make a final decision by January.

The outcome seemed certain when Mr. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, made the announcement. Gen. Dempsey said that if there were any combat standard women could not meet, the military better have a good reason for not lowering it.

In March 2013, retired Adm. William McRaven, a SEAL and then-chief of Special Operations Command, sent an upbeat memo to the Joint Chiefs.

“I applaud the department’s decision to eliminate the Direct Combat Assignment Rule and believe the eventual and complete integration of women into U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) will provide a new and powerful dimension to our Special Operations Forces (SOF) formations,” he wrote.

Last week, during an appearance at Georgetown University, Mr. Carter was asked if various ground combat jobs will be opened to women. “I think most will. Maybe all will,” he answered.

Uncharted territory

The SEALs have not used women volunteers in any type of pilot program.

In contrast, the Marine Corps dispatched 27 women volunteers on the grueling Infantry Officer Course. None passed. Enlisted women, however, completed less-demanding infantry training.

The Army also went the volunteer route on April 20 by putting women into the Ranger Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. After the first week, a step called Ranger Assessment Phase (RAP), eight of 19 women remain. Of 381 men, 184 are moving on.

An Army press release said the success rate — 48 percent for men and 42 percent for women — is “within historic norms for the Ranger course.”

The RAP test consisted of 49 pushups, 59 situps, a five-mile run in under 40 minutes, six chin-ups, a swim test, a land navigation test and a 12-mile march with a 35-pound rucksack in under three hours.

Naval Special Warfare has opened some support jobs, or military occupational specialties (MOS), to women. But the tip of the spear, SEALs (3,957 jobs) and special warfare combatant craft crewmen (944 jobs) remained closed pending the defense secretary’s final decision.

Grueling training ahead

The Special Warfare Command completed several studies before concluding that there are no barriers to admitting women.

The Joint Special Operations University looked at how mixed-gender small teams would perform.

Researchers at the University of Kansas queried personnel on their attitudes for admitting women and impact on unit cohesion. The Rand Corp., a Pentagon-supported research group, looked at the same issues.

Karen R. Kelly, a physiologist for the Department of Warfighter Performance at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, studied current standards for becoming a SEAL and their occupational relevance.

A command statement to The Times said, “Standards will not be lowered.”

The future of all-male SEAL teams has garnered much attention since they are arguably the most famous, and macho, commandos in the U.S. arsenal.

If the Pentagon orders the command to open its jobs, female candidates will face what some experts consider the toughest military training qualification test in the world.

It begins with a preparatory school and, next, an indoctrination and pre-assessment phase. Then comes a grueling six-month, phased qualification called Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL, or BUDS.

Carried out at the Naval Special Warfare Training Center in Coronado, California, BUDS demands strength, endurance, speed, underwater and airborne skills, mental toughness and marksmanship.

According to a naval special warfare website, the BUDS phases are: basic conditioning for running, swimming and calisthenics culminating in a sleep-deprived “Hell Week”; combat diving; land warfare; and then final qualifications that test candidates across the combat spectrum.

Throughout, exhausted sailors are pushed and tormented by instructors looking to weed out those who cannot carry a comrade off a Pacific Ocean beach, for example, or belly-crawl up a steep sand berm.

‘Days of Rambo are over’

Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, says she doubts that standards will be maintained because of political pressure.

“The presumption that tough standards in SEAL or Delta Force training would remain the same is in conflict with the administration’s stated paramount goal of ‘gender diversity metrics,’ meaning quotas,” Mrs. Donnelly said.

She painted this scenario: “A few women might be accepted at minimum performance levels, displacing higher-scoring men. Then, to achieve higher numbers, officials would question, modify or incrementally drop physically demanding training elements while coping with new personal relationship complications in conditions of high stress and forced intimacy. The result would be less preparation and higher risks of injury, death or failure in sea/land special forces combat operations, with no trade-off benefits in terms of mission success.”

Mrs. Donnelly said she was “astonished” when a senior SOCOM officer appeared in the Pentagon briefing room and said, “We’re looking for smart, qualified operators. You know, there’s just — there’s a new dynamic. I mean, the days of ‘Rambo’ are over.”

“This was an affront to the professionalism of Special Operations Forces everywhere,” she said. “And policies affecting our most elite fighting forces should not be based on the fictional images, whether it’s Sylvester Stallone as Rambo or Demi Moore as G.I. Jane.”

During an interview in February with The Washington Times, former Navy Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Neill, the man who shot and killed Osama bin Laden, answered “absolutely” when asked if women can make the SEALs.

“I’ve met women that I think can beat me up. I’m not joking. Here in the States. There are some tough women out there,” he said.

Mr. O’Neill said SEAL training “is the toughest in the world. It’s tough physically. But it comes to a mental spot where you need to talk yourself into doing more. And you can convince your body through your mind to do anything, and I think a lot of women are mentally tougher than men. Like I said, if they don’t lower the standards. If they can do the amount of pullups, do the ‘slide for life,’ get over the cargo net and carry the log, then, yeah.”

Will the red-blooded SEAL community accept women?

“I would say, based on the guys I know, if they do not lower the standards, then yes,” he said.

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