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Timeline: Women In Combat Roles

A female Marine participates in Infantry training in 2013. US Marine Corps photo

A female Marine participates in Infantry training in 2013. US Marine Corps photo

The Marine Corps has recommended that women be excluded from some combat jobs, according to a report from The Associated Press. Any exclusion is at odds with the stated position of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus – who will make a recommendation to the defense secretary on behalf of the Navy and Marine Corps – that women should be allowed to compete for any job.

Mabus and the other service secretaries must submit their recommendations to Defense Secretary Ash Carter by Oct. 1, with Carter announcing a final decision on whether any positions will remain closed to women by Jan. 1, 2016.

These decisions, though, are several years in the making.

December 2010

In December 2010, two separate advisory committees offered recommendations that would open more jobs to women, according to a National Women’s Law Center timeline. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission, established by Congress, recommended that the services eliminate combat exclusion policies, which kept women out of specialties specifically tied to ground combat, as well as prevented women with more widely used specialties from being assigned to units that conduct ground combat.

That same month, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, established by the Secretary of Defense, recommended reversing the combat exclusion policy and service assignment policies that discriminated based on gender, and open all career fields and schools to women.

February 2012

In a congressionally mandated report, the Pentagon made two major changes that reflected the nature of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. DoD eliminated a 1990s-era policy banning women from positions that were collocated with direct ground combat units – based on an outdated notion of an at-risk front line and a safer rear area. DoD also opened up battalion-level positions in units engaging in direct ground combat, whereas previously women couldn’t serve below the brigade level. This opened up 1,186 positions in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, according to NWLC.

January 2013

Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote a memo to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Jan. 9, 2013, that began, “The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously join me in proposing that we move forward with the full intent to integrate women into occupational fields to the maximum extent possible.”

Dempsey noted in his memo that the department had already made significant progress in creating opportunities for women but that, to integrate women successfully into the remaining occupational fields, the military needed to do so in a way that preserved unit readiness and cohesion as well as set up male and female servicemembers for success.

The memo notes the need for “validating occupational performance standards, both physical and mental, for all military occupational specialties (MOSs), specifically those that remain closed to women. Eligibility for training and development within designated occupational fields should consist of qualitative and quantifiable standards reflecting the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for each occupation.”

May 2013

Four months later, the service secretaries each submitted an implementation plan for integrating women into combat roles. The Navy reported at the time that 88 percent of its billets were open to women. At the time, female enlisted sailors could not serve on frigates, coastal patrol ships and mine countermeasures ships due to the prohibitive costs of creating berthing areas. Enlisted females were also kept out of Coastal Riverine Force small craft below the brigade level, and all females were barred from serving aboard submarines and in SEAL units – though a plan was already in place to integrate female officers into submarine crews, following a 2010 decision.

Female enlisted Marines were also not allowed to serve in the ground combat element below the battalion level. About 54,000 active component and 16,000 reserve component billets were closed to women, according to the Marine Corps implementation plan. The service set out a two-pillar plan to open both occupational specialties and specific types of units that were closed to women. The plan notes, though, that “if at any time the integration of women into either units or MOSs conflicts with the guiding principles set forth by the SECDEF and the CJCS, an exception to the policy will be requested to keep the positions closed.”

January 2015

The Navy decided it would open its nuclear ballistic missile submarines and its Virginia-class attack subs to female enlisted sailors in the summer of 2014 and publicly released its integration plan in January 2015.

The Navy eventually selected the first 38 enlisted female sailors to serve aboard a the guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN-727) in June, and these women began training at the Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Connecticut last month.

September 2015

The Marine Corps finalized a nine-month research effort by the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force. In a summary of the report on gender integration in ground combat roles, obtained and published by The Washington Post, the Marine Corps found that all-male units performed better on 69 percent of their tasks compared to gender-integrated units. Gender-integrated units performed better than all-male units on only two of 134 tasks. The study also found higher fatigue and rate of injury in female Marines. The Associated Press reported on Sept. 19 that the Marine Corps would request some exemptions, likely making it the only service to do so and pitting it against its Navy secretary.

Mabus said in a Sept. 11 interview with National Public Radio that he didn’t believe the Marines’ nine-month study proved that all women should be banned from more strenuous roles.

“Part of the study said women tend to not be able to carry as heavy a load for as long. But there were women that went through the study that could. And part of the study said we’re afraid because women get injured more frequently, that over time, women will break down more, that you’ll begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates. I’m not sure that’s right. But it is something that you can set a standard for. But to make that sort of generalization – there were individual women who could meet this standard.”

Mabus said that, rather than exclude women, non-gender-based standards should be set up for various parts of the Marine Corps, and any Marine who can meet them should be allowed to fill that role.

“I think that the one thing this experiment did show is, here’s what it takes, here’s what it takes to be in the infantry, here’s what it takes to be in the artillery, here’s what it takes to be in armor, and there are these standards now. In the past, we’ve sent men into the infantry that couldn’t meet the standards. They were assumed to be able to meet them. There weren’t any standards. They would just assume, since they’d been through basic training, they must be able to meet them,” he said.
“I think that everybody will have to be at the same level. They will have to meet these standards that have now been set that simply didn’t exist before.”

  • Curtis Conway

    Are there areas where women can perform missions in the combat scenario ? . . . You bet . . . bring them on . . . IF . . . they can meet the standard. DO NOT CHANGE THE STANDARD. If we ‘Gender Norm’ qualifications for Special Operators, we begin the process of destroying our force from within. Either you cut the Grade of you Don’t! In the case of the two Female Officers in Ranger training . . . they reset more than once in a training track that here to fore all male Officers got ONE SHOT, and if they didn’t cut it, that was it! So . . . we are smarter, safer, and better now?! I’m listening . . .

    How do Liberals win arguments, and tried and true systems that worked for decades get destroyed (I’m sorry – changed) ? . . . terms are redefined and qualifications are rewritten. I wonder what is going on here?! Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark. The current administration has NO IDEA what Fail Safe means in all things Nuclear, and now they apply the same logic to this arena . . . and the professional military just stands by a lets this happen? Big Army ground-ponders, air defense, combat vessels, and submarines, knock yourself out, bring them on, but SOF?! The result will be less safety for nation.

    • dan

      Curtis, on a different note and because I believe you would know, does an Iowa class have the power to fire the Rail Gun? If the turrets were removed could they remove the boilers and install x2 reactors? In my mind, two Rail Guns forward and VLS aft or hanger for F35’s, good or bad idea? I believe there heavy armor is still a huge asset. With the other empty x6 boiler locations now you have room for many Marines or special forces and there equipment You could even build another mess or two to accomadate the new ships possible crew/opp’s if needed. What do you think?

      • Curtis Conway

        You are not the only one thinking along these lines. The Gas Tubine conversion was studied cold . . . there was just no money. Don’t have to have nukes, but if you are going to rebuild the BBs then it would solve the ship’s fuel problem, and provide those tanks to support JP-8. The rail guns would most likely fill the turret spaces and Directed Energy where the 5″ 38s where. Interesting idea. When the BBs were underway the skippers were always telling everyone all they had to do was button up until all the missiles stopped coming, and then hold sweepers. Although it is not quite that easy for the BB it is pretty close. One can take them out with a tactical nuke or a very large torpedo.

        • dan

          Thank you.

    • bass_man86

      While I largely agree with you I will, again, point out that both sides of the aisle have played a role in this boondoggle. But I do largely agree with you; when I see women fighting men in a Mixed Martial Arts octagon and the military does away with separate physical fitness and grooming standards I will be more amenable to the whole idea. Rousey versus Silva? Now that is an interesting line up!

  • milomonkey

    let them be the sniper , after all sniper dont move around too much and they hide themselves..

    • John B. Morgen

      The Soviets had female snipers during World War II, besides fighter pilots….

  • NinthCommsBatt

    IF the army’s testing shows that those female officers passed ranger school, then let them in the ranger battalions if that is what the army desires, they passed the requirements and earned it! The army has co-ed boot camp already, and they have a different standard than the Marine Corps. As for the Corps, no females (and quite a few men) have been able to pass the extremely rigid standards of Marine IOC and the Commandant has requested an exclusion for all Marine grunts after extensive validated testing of a mixed ground combat element. Each service should decide on its own based on the validated tests and standards of each branch whether females are a good fit. The army is different than the Corps in terms of training and austerity. There are plenty of good infantry billets in the army for females if they want to be trigger pullers or spec ops, but leave the world’s finest USMC as the elite premier fighting force with a higher standard of training and efficiency to decide its own future as dictated by its history as the toughest fighters in the world..most female Marines get it! …America’s 911 force in readiness…Semper Fidelis.

    • redgriffin

      But what about the Navy? the SEALS are opening to women in lieu of the Army Ranger School results and women have been on front line ships since the late 80’s and on support ships since the 70’s we know that women can do the jobs and there is no evidence that any standards are being cut or do you have that evidence? The truth is that the US Military will need women in more positions of duty now that less and less people are joining the services.

      • bass_man86

        Have you actually looked at the current physical fitness requirements? And did you fail to notice that women do not cut their hair? As far as less people joining the service, when my son tried to join the Navy the recruiter told me that they were specifically directed to focus on recruiting women and that the only men they could accept were young men still in high school or men that scored high enough on the ASVAB to become nukes, or men that were willing to go SPECOPS. Please do not urinate on me and tell that it’s raining! I could go on but I do not have enough time.

        • redgriffin

          No I’m not crazy enough to be a SEAL but I did do duty in San Diego next to the Amphibious Base where BDUs is carried out and it did not look easy but I guess you can tell us all about it right?

          • bass_man86

            You did not answer either of my questions, “Have you actually looked at the current physical fitness requirements?
            And did you fail to notice that women do not cut their hair?” I am going to assume that you did not. No, I will not tell you about SEAL traning but clearly you are ignoring the fact that women have differing grooming and physical fitness standards.

          • redgriffin

            No I haven’t look at the physical requirements but I do know how to read the printed word the SEAls have opened the program to women and they will have to conform to the standards as set forth. Since the ladies who passed Ranger School had to it their hair that the SEALs will require too. Have you seen ladies hairstyles today. Their even dancing the shimmy whammy.

      • CaptainParker

        With Mabus as the Secretary of the Navy would you expect otherwise, especially since the Navy has the reputation for being the most slavish adherent to PC of any of the Armed Services? As for women doing the job, I have only this to say: “U.S.S. Norton Sound.”

        • redgriffin

          You obvious ly never saw the interview that the Secretary did on PBS which he explained the criterion for the marine’s comments.

          • Haitian Refugee

            I see your problem now. You’re watching PBS that just reports what the administration says & doesn’t provide journalism into those statements. I bet you’re a big fan of Charlie Rose too:)

          • redgriffin

            No I watch other news show except Fox News that is for slop headed Neanderthals.

          • redgriffin

            I see yours to but I find I’m too much of gentleman to point it out.

      • James B.

        The SEALs are opening their ranks to women because the standards are much higher, much broader, and much less negotiable than Ranger School. There might be a couple dozen women in the US Navy who could start BUD/S under the current regime, and it is unlikely they would pass.

  • dan

    Bad idea, I have said it all along.

    • redgriffin

      Why it seems to me that women can do the jobs if they are trained it has worked in the Coast Guard and in the Air Force. It’s time has come there is no way that the services can stop it even the USMC.

      • Navyjag907

        The people deciding women can and should serve in infantry ground combat billets have never worn the crossed rifles or the Marine equivalent. They’re willing to ignore or gender norm the standards and they have no regard for the history of ground combat which has no example of successful integration of women in infantry units. Further, they lie unashamedly for the goal of getting women promoted as the ultimate good. They even cite the diversity god saying the diversity of women in the infantry and special operations forces makes those units stronger not weaker. In my view the civilian figures in the DOD and their supporters in the ranks of Army generals ought to be held in contempt because they’re lying about this issue, they know it, and they’re going to get a lot of young American men and women killed, wounded, captured, and in the case of women raped, in support of a policy that’s going to fail. Thank God the Marines are taking their stand based on facts regardless of the political consequences and the Israelis as ever maintain their life and death struggle through the IDF by having to make existential decisions based on facts and not the political favor of the moment.

        • redgriffin

          And you know this all how?

          • Garrett Randel Jr

            Redgriffin, your question implies that you know Navyjag907’s assertion is incorrect; how do know that his/her assertion is incorrect?

          • redgriffin

            Which assertion are you talking about ?

          • Garrett Randel Jr

            Most all of what Navyjag907 wrote in his post when you commented, “And you know this how?”

          • redgriffin

            You expect me to answer when I have asked so many questions that you gentlemen haven’t answered I just give up on you and you questions if you want a answer you probably would have to refresh my memory. No that you will.

        • redgriffin

          Actually all the crossed rifles show is that you are in the infantry arm I think you mean the CIB award.

          • Navyjag907

            No, I didn’t. There were plenty of good officers who never had the chance to earn a CIB but they’re certainly knowledgeable about infantry service.

          • redgriffin

            I know you were going somewhere with that line but it eludes me. All I said was that crossed rifles is the infantry the people who wear it are assigned to infantry units. Just like armored cav get crossed sabers on a tank. As for the CIB I would say any front line soldier from Iraq or the Afghanistan has at least one of them just as their medics get the CMB it’s the way to get some points for promotion.

        • dan

          No kidding, finally someone with a brain.

      • dan

        Because women are less than men physically, they bitch all the time and standards are lowered to let them pass, that’s why.

        • redgriffin

          No debate from me viva le difference. Still no one can tell me that they couldn’t do the job because I’ve seen a trained woman do MMA Fighting so I know they can do it. In fact I happen to know that not all men can do combat jobs either so should we ban all war?

          • dan

            Let’s use your MMA as a example, let’s put the best female vs. the best male in the ring at a comparable weight, she is toast and he would be holding back. In the octagon, by the way is a very controlled environment is much different than a war zone, come on man. How about this, next time we go into battle we tell the other team we will be using women so they should use there J.V. team also, that just sounds stupid don’t it?
            You are putting lives at risk with women on the line including there own. You will never convince me women belong forward, period. I respect your thoughts however, just a thought for you before I go- what would be the reprecautions with a women prisoner of war? Would this country tolerate it? NOPE!

          • redgriffin

            Are you sure I mean really sure. Because I’ve seen the woman beat the shorts off a man so I find that a bad argument. I would say that you are going to be disappointed when women get into combat roles and you will see that they can do the job with training and that is the key word training .

          • dan

            What comes next, that would be experience, cant teach that. How many lives will it take for someone to learn a certain situation. I am glad the Marines are holding ground on this topic and also, I wont be disappointed sir, the one fighting next to her who gets planted might however and there family, they can always feel good with the reason for the loss of a loved one- it was politically correct, to me, it is a complete disgrace. If they are so capable, have an all women battalion, they wont do that because then they cant blame a man and only themselves then, no more finger pointing, no more excuses, the results would speak for themselves for what they would be, a complete failure. You may think I am the problem, I am reality in the beast sir, they don’t belong on the forward line’s. You don’t see a man fighting to be in a women’s world.

          • redgriffin

            Look I can see your a bit mysogynyistic so I’ll you to you Neanderthal ideas but women in combat is coming and you can’t stop it so just brush off your chair at the Old Sailors and Marines Home and tell every body how the Progressives are ruining this country but I’m going with rest of the country into the future. See you dinosaur.

          • dan

            You are actually correct sir in me, serving 20 years, 4 reserve and 16 active in the fleet. Not knowing your record I can only use mine oviously. I can remember vividly how women couldn’t do certain simple jobs because of height and strength restritions, on rescue training they had no chance of rescuing a 180 lbs man injured, sucked for him hugh. Perhaps you could concede just a bit as well, they may be coming as you are clearly in favor of but it may in part be a polital compromise, possibly??? I have seen first hand there incapabilities shown by women themself’s, and then listening to there excuses of how unfair it is. Would you be willing to have a all women crew? Perhaps you may be willing to concede some possible differences in the genders, maybe not. A 100 lbs pack still weights 100 lbs reguardless of who lifts it, I would love to eat crow on this topic but I can also tell you with a great degree of confidence, nope. I have seen it.

      • CaptainParker

        And how far away are they from a genuine live-fire zone? Spare me your political correctness.

        • redgriffin

          Well the ones that were embedded with the marines were in combat fireing real live guns with real live ammo and all you can read all about them in books like “Sisters in Arms” and “Ashley’s War” Not that you will.

  • Michael D. Woods

    Women are a large, identifiable population of people whose upper body strength is less than the corresponding population of men, though there is overlap in the distributions. A larger number of unit members whose strength is nearer the minimum will result in each member meeting or exceeding the minimums, but a reduction in overall unit effectiveness. The Marine tests showed this effect.

  • Scott Mccord

    God Bless the US Marine Corps… They spent a lot of money ($32M, I believe) to complete a thorough test and review… and to deliver their informed, objective recommendation to SecNAV, who, gee, had already decided what the answer was….. duh! Why were we waiting until 1 October [which has yet to occur]? Why didn’t Mabus just say, “shut up and do as I say”?

  • Garrett Randel Jr

    The issue is not women in combat; the issue is assigning women to Marine infantry units.

    The different physical capabilities of women and men are not
    unimportant elements in this discussion, but those differences are not really
    what this issue is about. The real issue, the 900-pound gorilla in the room
    that everyone is pretending is not there, is mixing men and women in a
    situation that is certain to result in male-female relationship issues ranging
    from natural attraction to the over-protection of females by males to various
    types of sexual misconduct. All the arguments about ensuring equal opportunity,
    etc. for women is a rhetorical smoke screen employed to advance a position that
    has nothing to do with team building and either the combat readiness of
    infantry units or combat readiness in general.

    • ipso_facto

      How do females respond to flogging?

  • CaptainParker

    Mabus has only two interests: First, to please his political master in the White House and, second, to score for himself bragging rights at toney Georgetown wine-and-cheese parties. Hope he lives long enough to be forced to write all those letters to the families whose service members will be sacrificed when this social experiment has to fight in a real war.

    • Steve

      You hit his interests perfectly. Sad that we have reached this point where life-or-death decisions for individuals and the security of the Nation are subservient to this political correctness.

  • On Dre

    Any discussion regarding women in combat is incomplete unless the YPG in Syria are brought up. A different corp than then YPJ (the men’s org) but on the front line in direct engagement with the ISIS enemy. There might be a few lessons in there.

  • John B. Morgen

    For starters, women should be assigned to all female combat units, but not separated from the main unit. For example, we could have a panzer platoon be all female, but be apart of mixed gender panzer battalion…..

  • Secundius

    IF YOUR GOING TO REDACT, THEN REDACT…

  • Bush+Obama=Satans love child

    Hi Megan. My post is still pending for some reason.

  • John B. Morgen

    Qualification standards must be gender-blind–at all times. If a female passes the test(s) then so be it, if she fails the test(s)….She has to move-on. No special treatments for anyone, not even for the males.