The Army will start training women for combat arms jobs later this year, but the first group of female infantry, armor or special operations soldiers are not expected to arrive at their units until 2017 at the earliest.

The service will start bringing in female leaders from West Point, ROTC and Officer Candidate School this summer as the class of 2016 graduates, according to the Army's implementation plan released Thursday. The first enlisted recruits are expected to start training in the fall.

"An incremental and phased approach by leaders and soldiers who understand and enforce gender-neutral standards will ensure successful integration of women across the breadth and depth of our formations," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in a statement.

Details of the Army's plan to integrate women into its combat arms military occupational specialties, which were previously open only to men, were released Thursday after being approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The Army is taking a "leader first" approach, with plans to put in place officers before assigning new enlisted soldiers to operational units.

Carter on Dec. 3 announced his decision to lift all gender-based restrictions on military service. The move paved the way for women to serve in the previously all-male infantry, armor and Special Forces fields and opened nearly 220,000 jobs across the military.

"We're not going to turn our back on 50 percent of the population," Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy said in a statement. "We are opening up every occupation to women. I think that's pretty historic."

The Army has already opened more than 95,000 positions and nine occupations to women, including combat engineer (12B) and cannon crewmember (13B), with these moves occurring between May 2012 and October 2015. In 2015, three soldiers became the first women to complete Ranger School; the school has since been opened to all soldiers regardless of gender.

The Army's approach is "deliberate, methodical," said Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk, an Army spokesman.

The gender integration plan is split into four phases:

Set conditions for the Army.

This phase is well underway now and includes training and educating leaders and updating personnel policies. It also includes establishing the new Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT.

Initiate Gender Neutral Training.

This phase is expected to start April 1. It includes implementing the OPAT, enlisting female recruits for One Station Unit Training assignments, and putting into place policy procedures for 2016 cadets who want to branch into infantry or armor. The goal for enlisted training is to train female soldiers in groups of two or more.

The OPAT is a new test that's expected to be rolled out in June.

"Think of OPAT as the ASVAB for physical skills," Pionk said.

Cpl. Jacqueline Beachum carries a 65-pound T.O.W. missile during a physical demands study Feb. 25, 2014, as part of the Army's study to determine how all soldiers, including women, will be deemed fit to join its fighting units.

Photo Credit: Stephen B. Morton/AP

The four-event OPAT will include a standing long jump, a dead lift, an aerobic interval run and a "seated power throw," a gauge of upper-body strength that represents loading ammunition.

The test is meant to measure the physical ability of a new recruit or cadet just as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery measures their mental ability.

A new recruit will need to score well enough on the OPAT to be placed into a particular MOS, Pionk said.

Assignment to Operational Units.

The first female infantry or armor soldiers aren't expected to be assigned to their operational units until spring 2017 because of the time it'll take for them to complete the required training – whether it's One Station Unit Training or the Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course. The intent is for female officers to arrive at the units first, followed shortly after by enlisted soldiers.

Sustain and Optimize.

During this final phase, the combat MOSs should be running like any other specialty in the Army.

Pionk said the Army expects to reach that phase in late 2017 or even 2018.

As the Army moves forward, it is "not expecting or anticipating a high propensity or demand" from females – officers or enlisted – who will want to join the infantry, armor or special operations specialties, Pionk said.

"Low propensity won't stop us, but we won't force the numbers, either," he said. "It's going to take time, so we're not setting any quotas one way or another."

The Army also had not finalized how it might re-class soldiers already in the Army who want to join the infantry or armor, Pionk said.

In general, enlisted soldiers who want to re-class must look at the latest in/out calls, a career planning tool that reflects the latest manning requirements and needs.

However, if the Army were to seek soldiers who want to re-class, he or she would have to attend and complete the requirements of the schools that generate that MOS, Pionk said. So, for example, a female noncommissioned officer who makes the switch from military police to infantry is going to have to complete the required advanced NCO schools for the infantry.

The same would apply to officers thinking about transferring to a new branch, Pionk said.

"This is a historic moment," he said. "We finally have full equality in the Department of Defense, and there's not a single opportunity in the Department of Defense that women can't do. All of this, we hope, will make a much readier force in the future, and we're doing everything to ensure that it's done."

Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.

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