Pentagon Takes Next Steps in Moving Women into Combat Jobs

July 25, 2013 2:04 PM
Chief Engineman Patricia Cooper, a student in the Riverine Combat Skills course (RCS), patrols the training grounds during a field training exercise in Camp Lejeune, N.C. in 2012. US Navy Photo
Chief Engineman Patricia Cooper, a student in the Riverine Combat Skills course (RCS), patrols the training grounds during a field training exercise in Camp Lejeune, N.C. in 2012. US Navy Photo

The Marine Corps intends to build up a female cadre of officers and noncommissioned officers to help women as more military occupations and units become open to females, the deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs told the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr. told the panel that it “is not going to happen overnight,” but the Marine Corps is learning from its pilot program—48 female Marines working in 19 the battalion headquarters of previously closed positions, such as tank units—on how to proceed in opening more military occupations to women by 2016.

Milstead stressed that women will “have to meet the [same] physical standards” established for men to be accepted into training for previously male-only jobs. He said that 250 of the 335 specialties in the Marine Corps have more than one demanding physical standard. The standards, such as lifting and loading a tank round, were “developed without regard to gender.”

His Army counterpart, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, said that all standards are being reviewed now as the policy is lifted that excludes women from direct ground combat operations. “We’re looking at that for the 110-pound male as well,” he said.

“The key is to validate the standard . . . to ensure it’s right,” Juliet Beyler, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, said.

Milstead said the services also need to study the social and psychological impact of opening those occupations both to the women entering them—their resiliency and ability to handle stress—and the effect on small units. “It’s equally important as the physical.”

The Marines may have an advantage in this area, he added, citing its gender-separate boot camp as a different way of training males and females and still producing a Marine.

Bromberg said the Army, and likely the other services, were weighing at what point in the accession phase [from recruitment through boot camp and follow-on schools] the physical-strength testing begins for females who want to enter the combat arms. “You have to look at the small teams where women have never served; that’s a huge piece” of the change, he said.

Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, representing Special Operations Command, said he didn’t “want to do anything to affect that [12-member] unit cohesion,” but said he expects that the command will learn much from the survey “that can truly get the opinion of the ‘quiet professionals’” on opening more positions to females. Women in Special Operations Command largely serve in civil-affairs units.

When asked about the possibility of sexual assaults increasing as women move into the formerly closed occupations and units, Bromberg and Milstead stressed leadership and ensuring that there are a number of women in officer and noncommissioned leadership roles already in place.

Both said their services did not intend to send a lone female to a unit. Milstead added, “We have to be careful with this placement. We don’t plan” to drop junior enlisted women in singly.

The Army and Marine Corps are also examining how women already serving can transfer into the combat arms if they wish to. “At what point can someone transfer in” and have a successful career, Bromberg said.

Bromberg and Milstead said that their services are not looking at ordering women working in other career fields to switch to the combat arms.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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