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DoD misses deadline for women-in-combat report

Nov. 17, 2011 - 12:25PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 17, 2011 - 12:25PM  |  
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Odierno backs expanding role of women in combat (Oct. 22)

The Defense Department has failed to meet an October deadline for a report that looks at whether women should be allowed to serve in combat roles.

Congress in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act required the defense and service secretaries to review policies "to determine whether changes are needed to ensure that female members have an equitable opportunity to compete and excel in the Armed Forces." That report was due to Congress on April 15, but the Pentagon requested an extension through October.

The report had not been submitted as of Nov. 16.

"The report is under department review; when it is complete we'll deliver it to Congress," said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno on Oct. 12 expressed his displeasure with the forthcoming report.

"I was not involved with this specific report. It was done before I got here," Odierno told Army Times. "And the reason I want to clarify that is because I am not real happy with it. I don't think it represents some of the things that our women are doing in combat."

The report focuses on jobs that put women into maneuver battalions, such as intelligence officers, signal officers and other specialties that women are not allowed to do in combat battalions, said Odierno, who wants to open more doors to female soldiers.

"We need them there. We need their talent," he said. "This is about managing talent. We have incredibly talented females who should be in those positions. We have work to do within the [Defense Department] to get them to recognize and change. We did not get there at this time in this report, and I'm focused on this and I will spend some time on it."

The Military Leadership Diversity Council and the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Service want to end all combat exclusion rules. Both agencies submitted reports in the past year calling the rules "unnecessary barriers" that are detrimental to the careers of women serving in uniform, and keep capable and qualified women from contributing to the strength of these units.

The Army opened most jobs to women more than a decade ago, but combat-exclusion policies still prohibit women from serving in 9 percent of the Army's tactical and operational career fields, such as armor and infantry. Women also lose key assignments because they can't be assigned to units or jobs most likely to see direct offensive ground combat. As a result, only 70 percent of Army positions are open to women, according to a report by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission.

These lost opportunities have a lasting effect. Today, 80 percent of general officers come from career fields that are closed to women. Just one female soldier was selected for brigadier general in 2010, out of 100 military officers chosen in all the services. Only 24 of the Army's 403 general officers — or 6 percent — are female, though women represent roughly 15 percent of the force.

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