- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter approved Thursday final plans from military service branches and the U.S. Special Operations Command to open up all combat jobs to women, and authorized the military to begin integrating female combat soldiers “right away.”

All of the services submitted their plan to integrate women into combat roles by Jan. 1 following Mr. Carter’s December decision to open all jobs to women with no exceptions.

“When I announced my decision back in December to open all career fields to qualified women, I emphasized that the implementation of this change must be handled the right way, because the combat effectiveness of the world’s finest fighting force is paramount,” Mr. Carter said in a statement. “Having reviewed their exceptionally thorough work, I am pleased all of the services developed plans that will effectively carry out this change and make us even better in the future,” he said.

In a blog post published Thursday on Medium, Mr. Carter said his main objective was to ensure the standards of service members were clear and not based on gender.

“My first and foremost guiding principle was that the services would need to continue to apply transparent objective standards for all career fields to ensure leaders assign tasks, jobs, and career fields throughout the force based on ability,” Mr. Carter said.

He warned that integration would take time and the military will continue identify and fix challenges that arise as women rise up through the ranks.

The Army and Marine Corps will take a “learn first” approach, integrating female officers and senior enlisted women into previously closed units before integrating junior enlisted women, to ensure they have leaders, Mr. Carter said.

“This will help ensure that women officers play a key leadership role, set the right example, and enhance teamwork wherever possible,” he said.

But while reviewing service branch training requirements and standards, the Pentagon found that some requirements were dictated by traditions and were outdated.

He cited a task required to earn the Army’s Expert Infantry Badge, which had required soldiers to move 12 miles in three hours with a 35-pound rucksack. The rucksack’s weight was based on World War II-era standards that bear little relevance to what soldiers are required to do today.

“This process drove us to take a closer look at our training, too, and going forward, we will be using standards informed by today’s real-world operational requirements, informed by experiences gained over the last decade-and-a-half of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Carter said.

He admitted that women and men have physical differences and said the services have looked at ways to mitigate the potential for higher injury rates among female soldiers and have come up with ways to address those issues.

For example, the Army intends to give all new recruits an occupational physical assessment test, the results of which will help match recruits with jobs they are capable of performing, or could be capable of performing with training.

Before Mr. Carter approved the plans, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Selva, oversaw a group of officials who reviewed and signed off on the plans.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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