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Ready for Women Special Forces!
If division-specific plans go through, women will have a chance to join the elite ranks formerly closed to them: those of the Navy SEALs, Marines, and Army Rangers. This planning comes on the heels of fierce debate about sexual assault in the military—two issues which may be more closely linked than it appears. In January, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said as much. “We’ve had this ongoing issue with sexual harassment,” Dempsey said. “I believe it’s because we’ve had separate classes of military personnel, at some level.Now, you know, it’s far more complicated than that, but...I have to believe, the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.”
Leaders from each division of the military are expected to unveil plans detailing how women will be integrated into the force. Eyes are especially trained on the elite forces, who must formulate integration plans without lowering their rigorous physical standards. The experience gained there is key to leadership advancement, and the lack of women in combat has naturally lead to a lack of female officials in the higher ranks.
Women make up about 15 percent of the armed forces, and many of them serve in dangerous roles on the front lines. Of the roughly 280,000 women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 100 were killed in action.Under the combat exclusion policy, the 1994 Pentagon rule that restricted women from artillery, armor, infantry and other combat roles, women nonetheless served in combat, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they were “attached” to combat units. But the bureaucratic sidestep gave them no official credit for the combat experience that is required for advancing up the ranks of the military.
The integration of women into combat roles comes as the Pentagon is struggling with the problem of sexual assault in the military — and as Congress is losing patience with what many lawmakers say is the military’s failure to act. A Pentagon survey found that an estimated 26,000 assaults took place last year.
Although Leon E. Panetta announced in January in one of his last decisions as defense secretary that he was lifting the military’s official banon women in combat, he did not specify which of the hundreds of thousands of front-line combat positions might be open to them. The plans to be released on Tuesday under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel indicate for the first time that the military is prepared to integrate women into the most elite combat units, which are among the most physically and psychologically demanding in the military, requiring the carrying of enormous amounts of weight on foot over long distances and on dangerous missions. Most male applicants fail to qualify for the positions.Under the plan announced by Mr. Panetta, the service branches have until January 2016 to decide which combat positions should be open to women. But the emphasis is on inclusion: If a branch of the military decides that a specific job should not be opened to women, representatives of the branch will have to ask the defense secretary for an exception.
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