All U.S. military combat positions are being opened up to women, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday, Dec. 3. According to The Associated Press, the decision allows women to fill about 220,000 jobs that are currently limited to men, including infantry, armor, reconnaissance and some special operations units.
According to The Washington Post, Carter announced the decision comes after years of research and debate on the role of women in the military.
“There will be no exceptions,” Carter said. “This means that, as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before.”
The New York Times reported two women made history in August by becoming the first female soldiers to complete the Army’s Ranger School, but they could not apply to join the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite special operations force – until now.
The Washington Post reported that women will now be eligible to join the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and other Special Operations Units. It also opens the Marine Corps infantry, a battle-hardened force that many service officials had openly advocated keeping closed to female service members. In fact, Marine General Joseph Dunford, whose branch of service was the only one to request the ability to make exceptions to the new rule, was not in attendance for the announcement, according to NPR.
According to The Associated Press, about 10 percent of the military remained closed to women before Thursday’s announcement, Carter said. Another 110,000 jobs in careers like artillery officer were opened in a series of decisions since 2013.
NPR reported the policy move will take effect after 30 days, Carter said.
The Washington Post reported these changes started in January 2013, when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he was rescinding a longtime ban on women serving directly in ground combat units. Panetta gave the services until this fall to research the issue.
Carter said the decision does not mean that most combat positions will become quickly and evenly balanced between genders, according to The Associated Press. He said there are “physical differences on average” between men and women and that “thus far, we’ve only seen small numbers of women qualify to meet our high physical standards” for some units.
He acknowledged that “some service members, men and women, have a perception that integration would be pursued at a cost of combat effectiveness.” However, Carter replied to that concern by saying: “The military has long prided itself on being a meritocracy.”
President Obama issued a statement after Carter’s announcement, according to NPR. He said, “Today, the Defense Department is taking another historic step forward by opening up the remaining 10 percent of military positions, including combat roles, to women. As commander in chief, I know that this change, like others before it, will again make our military even stronger. Our armed forces will draw on an even wider pool of talent.”
Editor’s Note: Information from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Associated Press and NPR was used in this report.