In a landmark decision announced Thursday, Jan. 24, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta signed a memo lifting the military’s previous 1994 ban on women serving in combat. The Pentagon’s 1994 rule excluded women from units whose primary mission is to participate in direct combat on the ground. This memo does not address which military occupation specialties, or MOS, will be opened up to women. According to the official home page of the United States Army, of the 438 MOSs within the Army, 418 are open to women, as of September 2012.
The New York Times reports that each branch of the military will create an implementation plan in the coming months. If a military branch believes that there is an MOS that should not be opened to women, the branch would have to ask for an exception. Each branch will create a time line for integration between men and women for those MOSs that are not currently open to women. Panetta is setting the goal to have all branches of military fully integrated by January 2016.
As reported by The New York Times, more than 800 women were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 130 were killed last year alone. Despite our military women not holding combat positions, in a war that has no official front line, they are still found in circumstances where combat is necessary. According to The New York Times, in the military, serving in combat positions, such as the infantry, becomes critical for career advancement. Up until the present, women were not allowed in the infantry, but still fought in combat situations; there is a belief that the military did not recognize women’s real service and hence holds back women’s careers.
Gen. Robert Cone, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command acknowledges that one of the most important attributes of combat MOSs are the physical requirements and that “soldiers do not want to see (that) degraded.” To ensure this, there will be objective assessments and validation studies to look at requirements according to each MOS. After the studies are completed, scientists will work to create MOS specific physical fitness tests. According to a CNN report, the Marine Corps will also begin examining physical standards. As of now, there are two different physical fitness tests for men and women.
The lifting of this ban marks the second of a historical landmark military decision under President Obama’s administration, after the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2011, which allowed for open gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve in the U.S. military.
Information provided by The New York Times was used in this report.