In a groundbreaking move that will transform the U.S. military, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has opened all combat positions to women.
“There will be no exceptions,” Carter declared during a Pentagon news conference.
Women in the armed forces have long pushed for an equal opportunity to serve in combat. They say the change will finally level the playing field with men in how quickly they are able to advance in rank.
The new policy, which overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule restricting women’s roles in combat, will take effect Jan.1, though the armed services have until April 1 to implement the changes.
Carter noted during the press conference that many women have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some have been killed. He said allowing women to serve in combat roles makes the U.S. military “a better and stronger force.”
“When I became secretary of defense, I made a commitment to building America’s force of the future,” Carter said. “In the 21st century that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent. This includes women.”
The policy change will open up roughly 220,000 jobs and 10 percent of military specialties that have been closed to women.
“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” Carter said during the press conference. “They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that previously was open only to men. And even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.”
Critics of allowing women in combat roles claim it will reduce the military’s effectiveness in combat. The House and Senate Armed Services committees said it will review the Pentagon’s decision to open all combat jobs to women, The Hill reports.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a joint statement Thursday that Carter’s “decision to open combat positions to women will have a consequential impact on our service members and our military’s war fighting capabilities.”
Other members of Congress praised Carter’s decision as a good move for women, the military and the country, the Military Times reports.
“Today’s historic announcement finally recognizes that our military is strongest when it prioritizes merit and capability, not gender — and it’s about damn time,” said Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who is one of four female Iraq War veterans serving in Congress.
“Women have been fighting and dying for our country since its earliest wars,” she said. “They have shown they can compete with the best of the best, and succeed. We are a country that looks at people as individuals, not groups.”
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