Defense Secretary Ash Carter is giving the chiefs of the military services until Oct. 1 to tell him which combat posts should remain closed to female service-members and is requiring them to provide documentation to justify the exclusion.
Carter said Thursday that the historic achievement of two women, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest, to earn Army Ranger tabs indicates that female fighters are able and willing to take on greater roles in the nation’s all-volunteer armed forces.
“Clearly, these two women are trail blazers,” Carter told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “And after all, that’s what it means to be a Ranger. Rangers lead the way.”
Carter said he’d offered his personal congratulations to Haver and Griest, both graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Others were also effusive in their praise.
The department’s policy is that all ground combat positions will be open to women unless rigorous analysis of factual data shows that the positions must remain closed.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
“When I was in ROTC, the Army Rangers would help with our training,” said Denise Guadarrama, a former Army nurse who served four years active duty in the 1990s at Fort Hood, Texas. “They were looked upon almost as demigods because they were very special. So knowing that there are now female Army Rangers is admirable.”
Haver, an attack helicopter pilot, and Griest, a military police officer, will graduate Friday with 94 successful male Ranger candidates at Fort Benning, Ga.
The two women, however, cannot join the 75th Rangers Regiment on active duty under Pentagon rules blocking them from the ranks of the elite Special Operations Command along with most armor, infantry and artillery units.
Those closed doors may soon open. Carter said that he will review his service heads’ recommendations after Oct. 1 and make his final decisions, which will be subject to congressional oversight, by the start of next year.
A 1994 policy that banned women from “direct ground combat” has become “less useful” in modern warfare.
“The department’s policy is that all ground combat positions will be open to women unless rigorous analysis of factual data shows that the positions must remain closed,” Carter said.
Carter said the landmark accomplishments of Haver and Griest, who had to pass a 62-day course of grueling physical and emotional tests, brought him “special satisfaction” because, as deputy defense secretary under then-Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, he’d overseen the January 2013 initiative to open more ranks to women.
That initiative, which had been mandated by Congress in the 2011 Defense Authorization Act, removed the prohibition on women engaging in “direct ground combat” and gave the military services three years to conduct studies on whether some jobs should remain off limits. The results of those studies will be reviewed by Carter after Oct. 1.
But well before the January 2013 change, the line between direct and support combat roles had been blurred in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 161 American women fighters died in action. By comparison, 543 U.S. women died in action during World War II, where they served strictly in noncombat roles.
Afghanistan blurred the distinctions between forward and rear operating areas, often placing support units in the proximity of active engagements.
Congressional Research Service
In a report released Tuesday, the Congressional Research Service, which studies issue for Congress, said that a 1994 policy that banned women from “direct ground combat” had become “less useful” because “of the nonlinear and irregular nature of the battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“What did ‘well forward’ mean on a nonlinear battlefield, and how useful was the ‘primary mission’ criteria when noncombatant units regularly engage in direct combat to carry out their missions?” the research service wrote.
Among other assignments in Iraq, female service members in the Army and the Marine Corpssearched Iraqi women for weapons, joined door-to-door foot patrols and participated in convoy escort missions that came under fire.
Despite the formal prohibition against it, women in Afghanistan were embedded with special operations forces in Cultural Support Teams operating in villages as they engaged with local women, according to the report.
“Afghanistan blurred the distinctions between forward and rear operating areas, often placing support units in the proximity of active engagements,” the report said.
In one high-profile incident in Iraq, insurgents ambushed a U.S. convoy on March 23, 2013, four days after American forces had invaded the country, and captured three Army women.
One of them, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, became an overnight national hero after the Pentagon portrayed her as having engaged her attackers in a fierce gunfight and having shot several enemy fighters.
U.S. special operations commandos rescued Lynch, who’d been seriously injured in the ambush, on April 1, 2003, in the first successful recovery of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam.
After her release, Lynch said the Pentagon had exaggerated her actions in the attack.
Asked by a lawmaker at a 2007 hearing whether she considered herself a hero, Lynch responded: “That wasn’t me. I’m not about to take credit for something I didn’t do.”
She added: “I’m just a survivor.”