USA — Commission to Recommend Lifting Ban on Women in Combat

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2011 — A com­mis­sion of cur­rent and retired offi­cers, senior non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers and civil­ians charged with eval­u­at­ing Defense Depart­ment poli­cies to ensure they pro­mote equal oppor­tu­ni­ty plans to rec­om­mend lift­ing the ban on women in com­bat.

The non­par­ti­san Mil­i­tary Lead­er­ship Diver­si­ty Com­mis­sion will make 20 rec­om­men­da­tions to Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Con­gress to increase diver­si­ty and inclu­sive­ness and devel­op “a demo­graph­i­cal­ly diverse lead­er­ship that reflects the forces it leads and the pub­lic it ser­vices,” accord­ing to a pre-deci­sion­al draft doc­u­ment post­ed on the commission’s web­site. The final report is expect­ed in March. 

Call­ing the mil­i­tary a leader in pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to all ser­vice mem­bers, regard­less of their racial and eth­nic back­ground, the group con­clud­ed that it’s now time to elim­i­nate bar­ri­ers based on gender. 

Cur­rent U.S. mil­i­tary pol­i­cy pro­hibits women from serv­ing in com­bat units below the brigade lev­el. And although women make up 14.6 per­cent of the mil­i­tary, they and minor­i­ty mem­bers still are under­rep­re­sent­ed in lead­er­ship posts, the com­mis­sion noted. 

“Increas­ing the racial, eth­nic and gen­der diver­si­ty of senior lead­er­ship requires elim­i­nat­ing bar­ri­ers that dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect the advance­ment of women and minori­ties,” the draft report said. 

This can be done on two lev­els, the com­mis­sion­ers said, begin­ning with the edu­ca­tion and men­tor­ing required to ensure all ser­vice mem­bers are equal­ly pre­pared to man­age their career progression. 

“Sec­ond, DOD and the ser­vices must remove insti­tu­tion­al bar­ri­ers to open tra­di­tion­al­ly closed doors, espe­cial­ly those relat­ed to assign­ments,” the draft report con­tin­ues. “An impor­tant step in this direc­tion, rec­om­mend­ed by the com­mis­sion, is to remove the restric­tions that pre­vent women from engag­ing in direct ground combat.” 

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Bec­ton, Jr., a com­mis­sion mem­ber, announced last week at a mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion­al­ism con­fer­ence that the group had agreed to rec­om­mend that women be allowed to serve in combat. 

“What we are say­ing is that women may be assigned to any job they are qual­i­fied for,” Bec­ton said at the Nation­al Defense University’s con­fer­ence on “Intro­spec­tion and Reflec­tion on Basic Tenets and the Way Ahead” on Jan. 11. 

“We are mak­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion,” he said. “We are say­ing, ‘Let’s remove bar­ri­ers.’ And I think peo­ple are very qual­i­fied to do cer­tain jobs, but because of their gen­der, they are not giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do them.” 

Bec­ton has wit­nessed a sea change in equal oppor­tu­ni­ty in the mil­i­tary. He rose through the ranks from a pri­vate serv­ing in a seg­re­gat­ed Army dur­ing World War II to become com­man­der of 7th Corps dur­ing the Cold War, and he helped to pave the way to ful­ly inte­grate women into the military. 

In response to a ques­tion­er, Bec­ton said it will be up to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to decide if they will sup­port see­ing women in com­bat billets.

“It was the opin­ion of the 32 mem­bers of the com­mis­sion -– and we lis­tened to quite a few of our women; sol­diers who have been in com­bat, lost limbs, heli­copter pilots and every­thing else –- that once they demon­strate what can be done, the coun­try will go along with them,” he said. “But that is a deci­sion the coun­try must make.” 

The Defense Depart­ment will review the commission’s rec­om­men­da­tions when the final report is issued, Pen­ta­gon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan told reporters last week. “We’ll see what the nature of the report is when it’s done,” Lapan said. 

Con­gress repealed the com­bat exclu­sion laws in the 1994 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act, but requires the ser­vices to sub­mit pro­posed changes to exist­ing assign­ment pol­i­cy to Con­gress for review, he explained. 

For exam­ple, the Navy was required to inform Con­gress before chang­ing its new pol­i­cy to autho­rize women to serve on sub­marines, he said. 

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

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