This January will make three years since the Army opened infantry, armor, fire support and special operator jobs to women for the first time.
At last count, there were 783 women serving across five divisions and one independent brigade, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel told Army Times in a Sept. 25 interview.
“They’re doing incredibly well,” Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands said. “We have females graduating from Ranger School. The things that we looked at when we opened up the specialties are happening across the board."
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His comments came the same day that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis demurred on making an overall assessment of the integration effort, when responding to a question from a cadet during an engagement at he Virginia Military Institute.
“We don’t even have data at this time that I can answer your question,” he said.
Those remarks sparked a backlash from advocacy groups.
“When the most senior military leader makes it clear that this was not a policy that he supported but one that he ‘inherited,’ he is tacitly endorsing efforts to undermine the success of the women currently serving in the infantry and in combat arms," the Service Women’s Action Network said in a Sept. 26 release. “He is sabotaging the efforts of his men and women who are working to integrate women, and his remarks likely put women at greater risk from those in their units who would do them harm because he has signaled that he doubts women belong in their units.”
But according to the Army’s personnel chief, things are going as planned.
“We have females that are volunteering to go to infantry, armor out of all the commissioning sources,” Seamands said. “I asked West Point, the think tank up there, to tell me what they saw [with] the propensity, and looking at the West Point cadets, the propensity is actually going up among our females.”
And as of late September, 18 women had graduated from Ranger School, an all-but-required test for a successful career in ground combat leadership.
“They continue to be interested, and we see that as a real positive thing,” Seamands said.
Women are currently serving in the 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, 4th Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, commands chosen for their size and range of opportunities.
Moves to open up the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 25th Infantry Divisions are still up in the air, Seamands said,
“My guess is if we continue on the path, you would probably see it further expansion, but no decisions yet,” he said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.