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Integration of women into combat jobs in the Army "comes down to physical standards," said Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command. "Standards that mean something."
Only those women who prove they can do the job will enter combat roles, said Cone.
The Army now has to find a way to fairly make that assessment, he said.
Cone's remarks came as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Thursday that the Pentagon will remove all restrictions banning women from combat jobs.
For the Army that will eventually open up about 120,000 jobs to women, according to Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army personnel director. It has to be fair to individuals, he said.
In an interview with Army Times, Cone and Bromberg laid out the Army's plan to adopt the new policy which recognizes that women have been involved in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade.
To determine which women are eligible, the Army will develop a series of tests to determine whether soldiers have the physical ability to do the tasks associated with specific combat related jobs, such as lifting an artillery round. Once the standard is established, both men and women will have to pass the test.
The Army has been gradually opening combat-related jobs to women, opening six MOSs in a pilot project announced last summer. The nine brigade combat teams in the pilot study provided valuable data that will be used going forward, according to Cone.
The remaining closed MOSs are: 11 Infantry, 13B Cannon Crewmember, 13D Field Artillery Automated, 13F Fire Support Specialist, 18 Special Forces, 19 Armor, 21B/12B Combat Engineer, 180A Special Forces Warrant.
Closed job fields will be opened, unless the services ask that some of them remain closed — and provide an acceptable explanation for the request to the secretary of defense.
The Army has until May to deliver its implementation plan to DoD.
The MOS openings will be spread over the three-year integration period, starting with the ones that are the easiest, according to Cone. He cited the Army's success with women as sappers and engineers. He said it should be relatively easy to open up two field artillery jobs, 13F (artillery field support specialist) and 13B (cannon crewmember) to women.
There's a great deal of analysis still to do, Cone said. What's more he said, ‘"There's a lot of self selection in this. Not every woman wants to do this."
The decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat presents a daunting challenge to top military leaders who now will have to decide which, if any, jobs they believe should be open only to men.
At a Pentagon news conference Thursday, Panetta said more than 230,000 battlefront posts — many in Army and Marine infantry units and in potentially elite commando jobs — are now open to women. It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend and defend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions, such as Navy SEALs or the Army's Delta Force.
The historic change, which was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.
The change won't take place overnight: Service chiefs will have to develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions, a senior military official said. Some jobs may open as soon as this year, while assessments for others, such as special operations forces, may take longer. The services will have until January 2016 to make a case to that some positions should remain closed to women.
In a written statement, President Obama expressed strong support for Panetta's decision. He said he is confident the decision — coupled with the recent repeal of the ban on gays in the military — will strengthen the U.S. military.
"Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love," Obama said.
"Our military is more capable, and our force is more powerful, when we use all of the great diverse strengths of the American people," Panetta said at a Pentagon ceremony in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Every person in today's military has made a solemn commitment to fight and, if necessary, to die, for our nation's defense," he said. "We owe it to them to allow them to pursue every avenue of military service for which they are fully prepared and qualified. Their career success and their specific opportunities should be based solely on their ability to successfully carry out an assigned mission. Everyone deserves that chance."
Many members of Congress, including the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., announced their support. "It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations," Levin said.
Objections were few. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, called the move "another social experiment" that will place unnecessary burdens on military commanders.
"While their focus must remain on winning the battles and protecting their troops, they will now have the distraction of having to provide some separation of the genders during fast-moving and deadly situations," said Boykin, a retired Army lieutenant general. He noted that small units often are in sustained combat for extended periods of time under primal living conditions with no privacy.
Panetta's move comes in his final weeks as Pentagon chief and just days after President Obama's inaugural speech in which he spoke passionately about equal rights for all. The new order expands the department's action of nearly a year ago to open about 14,500 combat positions to women, nearly all of them in the Army.
In addition to questions of strength and performance, there also have been suggestions that the American public would not tolerate large numbers of women being killed in war.
Under the 1994 Pentagon policy, women were prohibited from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. A brigade is roughly 3,500 troops split into several battalions of about 800 soldiers each. Historically, brigades were based farther from the front lines, and they often included top command and support staff.
The necessities of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, propelled women into jobs as medics, military police and intelligence officers that were sometimes attached — but not formally assigned — to battalions. So while a woman couldn't be assigned as an infantryman in a battalion going out on patrol, she could fly the helicopter supporting the unit, or move in to provide medical aid if troops were injured.
And these conflicts, where battlefield lines are blurred and insurgents can lurk around every corner, have made it almost impossible to keep women clear of combat.
Still, as recent surveys and experiences have shown, it will not be an easy transition. When the Marine Corps sought women to go through its tough infantry course last year, two volunteered and both http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2012/10/marine-corps-womem-infantry-officers-course-101512/">failed to complete the course. And there may not be a wide clamoring from women for the more intense, dangerous and difficult jobs, including some infantry and commando positions.
Two lawsuits were filed last year challenging the Pentagon's ban on women serving in combat, adding pressure on officials to overturn the policy. And the military services have been studying the issue and surveying their forces to determine how it may affect performance and morale.
The Joint Chiefs have been meeting regularly on the matter, and they unanimously agreed to send the recommendation to Panetta earlier this month.
A senior military official familiar with the discussions said the chiefs laid out three main principles to guide them as they move through the process. Those were to maintain America's effective fighting force, preserve military readiness and develop a process that would give all service members the best chance to succeed.
Women comprise about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or to jobs in neighboring nations in support of the wars. Of the more than 6,600 U.S. service members who have been killed, 152 have been women.