U.S. Military Works To Implement New Rules On Women In Combat

Dec 4, 2015
Originally published on December 4, 2015 4:53 pm
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter says that 30 days from now, women will be able to serve in jobs that range from driving tanks to going on raids as Navy SEALs. NPR's Tom Bowman reports the military services will spend the coming weeks putting that policy into place.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Pentagon officials say that starting on January 2, all those ground combat drops will a genuine race second all those ground combat jobs will be open to women, and they expect the services to start sending women to units no later than April 1. Army Marine officials had no specific details, but both services already have come up with physical requirements needed for each of those jobs, like pulling a wounded comrade from a vehicle or climbing over a barrier. Secretary Carter made clear that maintaining those standards is key.

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ASH CARTER: We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country's talents and skills. We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards.

BOWMAN: The Marine Corps was the only service that recommended keeping ground combat jobs closed to women. That's because a year-long Marine study found that gender-integrated units were slower, less lethal and more prone to injuries than all-male units. But yesterday, the Marines said they would move forward with Carter's order. Starting two years ago, the Marine Corps added female Marine sergeants and officers to infantry training units they opened to women. Dozens of women already have completed that infantry training course. Former Marine captain Zoe Bedell served two tours in Afghanistan. She said she was delighted with Carter's announcement and disappointed the Marines wanted to continue barring women.

ZOE BEDELL: I do hope that going forward, the Marine Corps is figuring out how it can be the absolute best at implementing that mission. One of the main objections people raise is physical differences, and I think that is a valid concern. Not every woman is going to be physically able to do the job, just like, frankly, not every man is physically able to do the job. But I think it will naturally exclude more women.

BOWMAN: Some of the toughest jobs in the military belong to the special operators like Green Berets and Navy SEALs. They're not going to change their grueling physical entry requirements. But the general in charge of those commandos, General Joe Votel, said he's ready to accept women.

GENERAL JOE VOTEL: Diversity in our force provides access, insight and perspective that you simply can't get with a homogenous force.

BOWMAN: For the past four years, Votel said, women have gone along with his commandos in Afghanistan, gathering vital information from female villagers. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.