New Policies Reflect Realities of Modern Warfare, Officials Say

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2012 — Defense Depart­ment pol­i­cy changes announced today reflect both women’s increased roles in and out of com­bat and the fact that war is no longer lin­ear, senior offi­cials said.

The depart­ment noti­fied Con­gress today it will abol­ish the restric­tion on assign­ing women to loca­tions where ground com­bat troops oper­ate, and selec­tive­ly lift the pol­i­cy bar­ring women from assign­ments to ground com­bat units below the brigade lev­el.

Those changes will result in more than 14,000 new jobs or assign­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for mil­i­tary women.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta “is mak­ing these changes because he rec­og­nizes that over the last decade of war, women have con­tributed in unprece­dent­ed ways to the military’s mis­sion,” George Lit­tle, Pen­ta­gon press sec­re­tary, told reporters dur­ing a brief­ing here today.

Women ser­vice mem­bers have put their lives on the line and demon­strat­ed courage, patri­o­tism and skill in defend­ing the nation, Lit­tle said.

“But even as we make this announce­ment, I would like to stress that Sec­re­tary Panet­ta knows this is the begin­ning, not the end, of a process,” he added.

The ser­vices will con­tin­ue to review posi­tions and require­ments to deter­mine what addi­tion­al posi­tions may be opened to women, the press sec­re­tary added.

“Our goal is to ensure that the mis­sion is met with the best qual­i­fied and most capa­ble peo­ple, regard­less of gen­der,” he said.

Lit­tle not­ed while prepar­ing the report took longer than expect­ed, Panet­ta and the ser­vice lead­ers “want­ed this done right, not done quick­ly.”

The delay allowed the review­ers to gath­er addi­tion­al views on the issues, and result­ed in more posi­tions open to women than would have been the case with an ear­li­er report, he added.

The report fol­lows a depart­men­twide review of poli­cies affect­ing women’s job assign­ments in the mil­i­tary.

Two peo­ple who led the review — Vir­ginia “Vee” Pen­rod, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary for mil­i­tary per­son­nel pol­i­cy, and Army Maj. Gen. Gary Pat­ton, prin­ci­pal direc­tor for mil­i­tary per­son­nel pol­i­cy — dis­cussed the new poli­cies at today’s brief­ing.

“Open­ing these posi­tions imple­ments lessons from over a decade at war, where women were proven excep­tion­al­ly capa­ble and indis­pen­si­ble to mis­sion accom­plish­ment,” Pen­rod said.

She said the review offered an oppor­tu­ni­ty to exam­ine all gen­der-restric­tive laws, poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions “with all ser­vices’ senior lead­ers at the table.”

The review pan­el worked to iden­ti­fy “changes … need­ed to ensure female mem­bers have an equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­pete and excel in the U.S. armed forces,” she said.

The report, Pen­rod said, “reflects the sec­re­tary of defense’s vision of remov­ing bar­ri­ers that pre­vent ser­vice mem­bers from ris­ing to the high­est lev­el of poten­tial and respon­si­bil­i­ty that their tal­ents and capa­bil­i­ties war­rant.”

The pol­i­cy lim­it­ing women’s mil­i­tary assign­ments dates to 1994 and lists four fac­tors that ban women from assign­ments or jobs: pro­hib­i­tive costs for berthing and pri­va­cy; the require­ment to locate and remain with direct ground com­bat units; units engaged in long range recon­nais­sance and spe­cial oper­a­tions forces mis­sions; and job-relat­ed phys­i­cal require­ments that “exclude the vast major­i­ty of women ser­vice mem­bers.”

Depart­ment lead­ers agreed the pro­vi­sion against locat­ing with com­bat units no longer applies, Pen­rod not­ed.

Before 2001, war typ­i­cal­ly involved front-lines com­bat and pro­tect­ed “rear” areas where sup­port func­tions like main­te­nance and med­ical care took place, she said.

“The bat­tle­space we have expe­ri­enced in Iraq and Afghanistan is quite dif­fer­ent,” Pen­rod added.

High­ly mobile ene­mies now trav­el among the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, while coun­terin­sur­gency and sta­bil­i­ty mis­sions to com­bat such ene­mies require U.S. forces to dis­perse across the coun­try in large and small bases, she said.

“There is no rear area that exists in this bat­tle­space. Forces of all types and mis­sions are required to be in close prox­im­i­ty and flow between loca­tions,” she said.

Pen­rod said lift­ing the loca­tion-based pro­hi­bi­tion opens 13,139 new Army jobs to women, because the Army is the only ser­vice that iden­ti­fied posi­tions that had been closed sole­ly because of where they took place.

The change will expand career oppor­tu­ni­ties for women and give com­bat­ant com­man­ders more options in deploy­ing forces, she said.

The report not­ed Army offi­cer career fields with the great­est num­ber of restrict­ed posi­tions include logis­tics, sig­nal, intel­li­gence and spe­cial oper­a­tions. Enlist­ed occu­pa­tions with the largest num­ber of restric­tions include radio oper­a­tor, sig­nal sup­port sys­tems spe­cial­ist, radar repair­er, elec­tron­ic war­fare spe­cial­ist and con­struc­tion equip­ment repair­er.

The sec­ond change is not a new pol­i­cy but may lead to one, Pen­rod said. DOD has grant­ed the Army, Navy and Marines a pol­i­cy excep­tion to selec­tive­ly assign women to bat­tal­ion-lev­el com­bat units.

The ser­vices will gain expe­ri­ence through those assign­ments that will help depart­ment lead­ers assess the cur­rent prohibition’s rel­e­vance and “inform poten­tial future pol­i­cy changes,” Pen­rod said.

The report also takes aim at the pro­vi­sion exclud­ing women from jobs because of phys­i­cal require­ments, she not­ed.

The ser­vices are work­ing to devel­op gen­der-neu­tral phys­i­cal stan­dards based on the tasks troops per­form on the job, Pen­rod said.

“This is an area of empha­sis for us as we move for­ward beyond the ini­tial steps report­ed as part of this review,” she added.

Accord­ing to the report, DOD will eval­u­ate gen­der-restrict­ed, phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing jobs once gen­der-neu­tral phys­i­cal stan­dards are devel­oped.

Pen­rod said when she began her 35 years in the Air Force, women were 2 per­cent of the force, and were restrict­ed from some assign­ments based on the tem­per­a­ture – Minot, South Dako­ta, was “too cold.”

Over the past 10 years, she said, women have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to prove them­selves in new ways while train­ing and equip­ment have improved. Ser­vice lead­ers are now active­ly seek­ing ways to expand oppor­tu­ni­ties for women, she added.

“This is very excit­ing to me … [that] com­man­ders were com­ing to us and say­ing ‘we need to change these poli­cies,’ ” she said.

Pat­ton said based on his career as an infantry offi­cer and through the lens of 45 months of com­bat over the past sev­er­al years, the changes announced today are the right thing to do.

“The way I look at it, as a for­mer infantry bat­tal­ion com­man­der, I wish I’d had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to bring women into my bat­tal­ion,” he said. “It expands the tal­ent pool.”

Pat­ton said the oppor­tu­ni­ties announced today are a first step toward the ques­tion of com­bat arms and spe­cial oper­a­tions jobs ulti­mate­ly open­ing to women.

As Panet­ta told the ser­vice chiefs, he said, “This is the begin­ning, not the end.”

Pol­i­cy changes will take effect lat­er this spring after 30 days of con­tin­u­ous ses­sion of Con­gress, as the law requires, Pen­rod said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)