In a joint news conference on Thursday afternoon, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs announced the discontinuation of the 19-year-old Combat Exclusion Policy. The removal of existing gender barriers will be implemented on a rolling timeline: the services must report initial plans by this May, and by January 2016 all fields should be opened to qualified service members regardless of gender. The timeline delays are planned to give the services time to comply, to figure out how to apply for any desired waivers, and to evaluate resulting questions or concerns. The end of the Combat Exclusion Policy seems anticlimactic yet absurdly necessary.
The Pentagon announced yesterday it would end its official policy banning women from serving in ground-combat roles, opening an estimated 230,000 positions to female servicemembers. The unexpected move by departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has met mixed reaction, and numerous questions remain about the practical effects of the decision.
The Thursday announcement by Panetta—who was joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey—settles one of the last remaining policy disparities between men and women in combat, allowing females to join infantry, artillery, armor, and other combat-coded posts previously reserved solely for men, including the special operations components. But, while the policy change topples some of the last remaining walls for women in uniform, it also poses serious questions for policy makers, chief among them being the status of women vis-à-vis the Selective Service System.