A female Marine goes through an obstacle course, one of the tasks of the combat endurance test.(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
By Jim Michaels and Tom Vanden Brook USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The military will not need to lower its physical
standards as it opens direct combat jobs to women, senior military
officials said Thursday.
However, an Army general said the standards will be reviewed for some positions.
The new order by the Pentagon, issued Wednesday, will open as many
as 237,000 new jobs to women. Women comprise about 14% of the 1.4
million active military personnel.
Military officials who briefed
reporters on background said occupations such as infantry and artillery
have exacting physical requirements and appropriate standards will be
maintained. The officials declined to be named because they are not
authorized to speak publicly.
The military has different
physical standards based on age and sex for the Army and Marines. In
either service, the standards for both sexes would be the same for those
trying to get into the infantry and other combat arms specialties.
"The department's goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the
mission is met with the best qualified and most capable people,
regardless of gender," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job - if they can
meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to
serve," he said.
That does not mean the standards may not change.
Army Gen. Robert Cone said the physical standards will be studied and
set and be the same for men and women.
Cone said surveys of
soldiers indicate they are willing to give women a chance in their
fields, provided standards are not lowered. "We assure them we don't
think that will be the case," Cone said.
The military services
have several years to fully implement the order, but the plan will be
executed incrementally so new jobs will open as the services make them
available. Any jobs that the services want to remain off-limits to women
will require the Defense secretary's approval.
said allowing women to serve in combat marks another step toward the
country's founding ideals of fairness and equality. He said the decision
will strengthen the U.S. military.
"Today, every American can be
proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers,
wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this
country we love," he said.
Family Research Council Executive Vice
President Jerry Boykin, a retired Army lieutenant general, said the
Pentagon order is "another social experiment" that will burden military
"While much is made of new 'high-tech'
forms of warfare, we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan that ground
combat still requires levels of sheer physical strength, speed and
endurance that are relatively rare among women," Boykin said.
policy restricting women from serving in combat on the ground was
modified in 1994, according to the Congressional Research Service. Women
cannot be assigned below the brigade level - a unit of about 3,500
troops - to fight on the ground.
Effectively, that has barred
women from infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers and
special-operations units of battalion size.
The services will have
until January 2016 to implement the changes, Panetta said. The move
comes as Panetta prepares to leave office. President Obama has nominated
former Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to take his place.