Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is removing a 19-year-old ban on women serving in direct ground combat roles, government officials announced on Wednesday.
The decision could potentially open infantry and special operations jobs to women who can meet the strength standards of those positions. A federal lawsuit filed recently by the ACLU claims that all military jobs should be open and that women have been serving in combat roles to some extend for years anyway.
In fact, about 144 women have lost their lives and 865 have been wounded in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.
As reported by Mother Jones, ACLU senior staff attorney Ariela Migdal said on Wednesday that the group was pleased with the lifting of the ban, but "we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts."
Once the decision is formalized on Thursday, the branches of service will be required to develop their own plans to open military jobs previously closed to women, the Washington Post reported.
Panetta is giving the services until January 2016 to submit special exceptions for why women must be kept out of certain jobs.
Of the DoD's major concerns: berthing and privacy. Infantry units typically live and operate in close quarters and little privacy is sometimes afforded during combat operations. Physical demand is another concern. Ground combat units are required to quickly march long distances with more than 80 pounds of assault equipment. In addition, If the unit takes casualties, everyone is required to be able to carry the weight of a casualty, the casualty's gear and their own gear to safety.
The 1994 "Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule" prohibited women from serving in ground combat units below the brigade level, which is typically comprised of several battalions. Because many of the jobs at the battalion level required "co-location" with smaller ground combat units more likely to engage in direct combat with the enemy, it was decided that women shouldn't serve in those jobs.
In a February 2012 report to congress, the Department of Defense said that because modern battlefields don't have clearly-defined boundaries—and women serving in support units could be exposed to front-line combat anywhere in a field of operation—they were no longer restricted from serving at the battalion level.
The DoD would later allow women to serve in some 1,186 additional jobs across the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, but still prohibited them from serving in infantry, artillery or tank units.
What do you think? Should women be allowed to serve in direct ground combat with America's enemies?
- A 2005 Slate Magazine article offers an explainer on the role of women in the military and the 1994 directive.
- Last year, the Marine Corps allowed two women into its infantry officer course for the first time in the branch's 237-year history.