WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. military will let women serve in all combat roles, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday in a historic move striking down gender barriers in the armed forces.
“As long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before,” Carter told a Pentagon news conference.
“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men,” he said.
President Barack Obama called the move a “historic step forward,” saying it would “make our military even stronger.”
“Our armed forces will draw on an even wider pool of talent. Women who can meet the high standards required will have new opportunities to serve,” Obama said in a statement
Carter said the opening to women would take place following a 30-day review period, after which they would be integrated into the new roles in a “deliberate and methodical manner” as positions come open. The waiting period enables Congress to review the decision and raise any objections.
He acknowledged the decision could lead to more debate over whether women would have to register for the draft, an issue he said was already under litigation. The U.S. military is currently an all-volunteer force, but young men are still required to register in case the draft is reactivated.
Asked whether the decision opened the door to women being required to serve in front-line combat positions, Carter said members of the military had some choices but not “absolute choice.”
“People are assigned to missions, tasks and functions according to need as well as their capabilities,” he said. “And women will be subject to the same standard and rules that men will.”
The decision drew a rebuke from the Republican chairmen of the armed services committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. But some other lawmakers welcomed the move.
“Secretary Carter’s decision to open all combat positions to women will have a consequential impact on our service members and our military’s warfighting capabilities,” Senator John McCain and Representative Mac Thornberry said in a statement.