Starting in January, Defense Secretary Carter announced Thursday, all military jobs in all branches will be open and available to women. Carter said that his decision to open all jobs to women was shared by the secretaries of the Navy, Army and Air Force and the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Only one military leader, Gen. Joseph Dunford - then the Marine Corps Commandant, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs - recommended keeping some positions closed to women.
With this announcement about 220,000 jobs - or about 10% of the entire active and reserve force - is now available for women. Carter did specify that everyone would be required to meet the same gender-neutral standards set by each individual branch for specific jobs.
This announcement comes only a few months after the end of a yearlong Marine Corps study which found that gender-integrated units had higher injury rates, shot less accurately, and moved slower than the male-only units they were paired with. Secretary Carter acknowledged the findings of this study in his statement, but felt that with careful implementation, the concerns raised by the study could be addressed. Many critics of the USMC study have pointed out that the women used also had much less experience in combat jobs than the men, which could have led to their higher attrition and lower effectiveness in combat.
For the Army, this news comes as no great shock, since they recently opened up Ranger School to any qualified male or female soldier.
For the Navy, this integration will mostly affect the Navy SEAL community, since both the submarine and fighter pilot communities have already accepted women in combat positions. Despite the USMC Commandant's reservations, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has voiced strong support for lifting the ban on combat positions for women.
The Air Force will have six job classifications affected by this announcement: special tactics officer and combat rescue officer, along with the enlisted fields of special operations weather, combat control, pararescue, and tactical air control party.
Although the Pentagon does not need support from Congress in order to take action on Carter's proposal if there is strong opposition from members of Congress, there could be problems down the road. Already, some members of Congress have vowed to take a close look at the issue during the 30-day review period.