Soldiers rehearse weapons skills while attending the Cultural Support training course at Fort Bragg, N.C. This month, the Army will begin expanding the role of women in battalion-level combat units. (Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika / Army)
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BILLETS FOR WOMEN AT BATTALION LEVEL
The eligible specialties opening up for women at battalion level are:
10 for officers:
Adjutant general, 42B
Field artillery fire support officer or effects coordinator, 13A
Field surgeon or medical platoon leader, 62B
Military intelligence, 35D
Medical operations, 70B
Physician assistant, 65D
6 for enlisted:
Human resources sergeant and senior HR sergeant, 42A
Chemical noncommissioned officer, 74D
Supply sergeant and senior supply sergeant, 92Y
Intelligence sergeant, 35F
Health-care sergeant and health-care platoon sergeant, 68W
Radio re-transmission supervisor and communications section chief, 25U
9 BCTs, 6 POSTS
Women will be placed in nine combat brigades:
2nd BCT, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo.
2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas
3rd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood
3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood
3rd BCT, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Knox, Ky.
3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.
2nd Stryker BCT, 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
3rd BCT, 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks
4th BCT, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.
The Army will start placing women in as many as 14,000 combat-related jobs by opening up six military occupational specialties and placing women in 37 battalions across nine brigade combat teams.
On May 14, the Army will begin implementing the new Defense Department policy.
The new DoD policy opens up an additional 3 percent of Army jobs to women.
About 30 percent of Army jobs will remain restricted to men.
"The last 11 years of warfare have really revealed to us there are no front lines," Brig. Gen. Barrye Price, director of human resources policy at the Army G-1 (personnel) told Army Times. "There are no rear echelons. Everybody was vulnerable to the influence of the enemy."
Women make up almost 16 percent of the Army, and have served in more than 78 percent of the Army's occupations.
More than 135,000 female soldiers have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, earning more than 400 valor awards, including two Silver Stars, the nation's third-highest award for valor, Price said.
More than 77 have been killed in action, while another 853 were wounded, he said.
There are two parts to the effort to open up combat-related jobs to women, Price said.
First, the Army will place women in 37 battalions in nine of its 45 active-duty BCTs.
These soldiers will be placed in MOSs that already are open to women, Price said. However, women didn't previously serve in these units because regardless of the MOS, they were barred from being assigned to combat units below the brigade level.
That rule was put in place in 1994, as DoD examined the role of women after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Price said.
"It was a different time [and] there was some concern about an expanded role for women or what role women would play in combat in the future," he said.
But women have played an invaluable role in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading the Army to push for an exception to that rule, Price said.
"Based on the numbers of women who were deployed, the number of valorous awards, the number of casualties women had faced, the number of Combat Action Badges, and their duty on the modern battlefield, we determined we should take a hard look at broadening our scope," he said.
The removal of this policy opens up 755 billets at the battalion headquarters level to women in 10 officer and six enlisted specialties, Price said. He expects about 350 of those billets will be filled by women.
The changes will affect qualified second lieutenants through captains and noncommissioned officers in the grades of sergeant through sergeant first class.
The Army will start with the nine BCTs so it can more easily assess the impact of the exception to policy, Price said.
"What we're looking to do is assess smaller, then, perhaps, depending on how it goes, expand," he said.
In selecting the nine BCTs, the Army sought a mix of heavy, infantry and Stryker brigades, Price said.
"We were really trying to get a sample that's designed to be reflective of the larger Army," he said. "We know in each of our units there are different cultures in infantry, in mechanized, in airborne, in air assault."
Price said there are "lots of volunteers" who want to be assigned to these units.
To start, most of the women who are placed in these battalions will be volunteers from the BCTs' home stations, Price said. The Army will then fill slots using the regular assignments process.
In November, six months after the exception to policy is implemented, the Army will report back to the defense secretary. Officials will then report to Congress, which will have to approve any expansion of this program, Price said.
The Army also is eliminating a provision that banned women from being "co-located" with units that are directly or routinely involved in combat.
This opens up six MOSs in 80 units that had never been open to women, Price said.
Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember, 13M.
MLRS operations fire detection specialist, 13P.
Field artillery fire finder radar operator specialist, 13R.
M1 Abrams tank system maintainer, 91A.
Bradley Fighting Vehicle system maintainer, 91M.
Artillery mechanic, 91P.
The Army plans to recruit new soldiers who want to enter these specialties, Price said, but it also is seeking soldiers who want to reclassify and retrain into these jobs.
Soldiers attending advanced individual training for the 13 series jobs will go to Fort Sill, Okla., while 91A and 91M training takes place at Fort Benning, Ga. The 91P trainees will go to Fort Lee, Va.
Logistics of transition
At Fort Benning, home of the infantry and armor schools, preparations are underway to receive female trainees.
"For the initial entry-type training that we do, these would be the first female soldiers [to come through]," said Col. Kevin MacWatters, commander of the 194th Armored Brigade.
Construction on the barracks is underway, said Capt. Benjamin Koczera, commander of E Company, 3rd Battalion, 81st Armored Regiment, which is responsible for the 14-week 91A and 91M training.
The work will cost about $42,000 to build a wall in the middle of a 60-soldier barracks bay and convert urinals to toilets.
When construction is completed in mid-July, the women's bay in the barracks will be able to hold 30 people. However, Koczera said they don't anticipate having more than 21 female trainees at any given time.
The unit also plans to add two female platoon sergeants and two female instructors by Sept. 1.
The platoon sergeants are responsible for the trainees' day-to-day schedules, including physical training, counseling and inspections.
Koczera's company also will welcome a female executive officer, 1st Lt. Doby Lewis, a former enlisted soldier who served as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Having women staff and cadre is not new to Fort Benning, but having Lewis in place at E Company will help with the transition, said Lt. Col. William Nuckols, commander of 3rd Battalion, 81st Armored Regiment.
"She's coming to us at the perfect time," he said. "Her experience as a drill sergeant will pay dividends to the company as we go through this slight change in culture."
Fort Benning is ready to receive female trainees, MacWatters said, even though it's still not known when the first trainees will arrive.
"We're changing very little to make this happen," he said. "If necessary, we could execute tomorrow."
Male or female, all trainees will be held to the same standards, MacWatters said.
"All trainees will go through the exact same training, the exact same PT," he said. "The overall mission is, we look at it as a transformation of volunteers into disciplined and competent mechanics, ready to contribute to their units. It doesn't matter, in our view, if they're male soldiers or female soldiers. The mission doesn't change."
The contributions of women in the military speak for themselves, Price said.
The Army now has one female four-star and four three-stars. In addition, the senior officers for at least seven specialties across the Army are women in the quartermaster, transportation, medical, nurse, adjutant general, military intelligence and signal corps, Price said.
A first was the selection of Brig. Gen. Laura Richardson as deputy commanding general-support of the 1st Cavalry Division, making her the first woman to serve in that role in a combat division.
Price said he is optimistic about the upcoming changes.
"I really do believe this exception to policy is going to inform the way ahead with regards to women in the service," he said.