Washington: Army leaders are asking whether—and how—to open infantry and armour ranks to women, the service’s senior soldier said today.
Officers in charge of training and force development are now gathering data to help answer those questions, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told reporters during a Pentagon briefing.
In line with Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s policy, the service has already opened 13,000 previously all-male positions to female soldiers, the general noted.
“Earlier this week more than 200 women began reporting to the manoeuvre battalions in nine of our brigade combat teams, selected to participate in the exception to the direct ground combat assignment rule,” he said. “Additionally, co-location [with combat units] as an assignment restriction is rescinded.”
A Defence Department report to Congress in February outlining the assignment policy changes included a vision statement that said the department “is committed to removing all barriers that would prevent service members from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant.”
Odierno noted the changes open new opportunities to women, who comprise 16 percent of the Army’s ranks. “This revision … allows us to leverage the tremendous talent resident in our ranks,” he added.
Women will likely filter in to the new positions for “several months,” the Army chief said. Two categories of assignments are now open to women: jobs such as tank mechanic and field artillery radar operator that are necessarily performed close to combat units, and a limited “exception to policy” opening select positions at the battalion level in jobs women already occupy.
“My guess is, based on my experience in Iraq and what I’ve seen in Afghanistan, we’ll then move forward with a more permanent solution [involving those two assignment categories] inside of the Army probably sometime this fall,” he said.
Odierno said the next step is “to look at, do we open up infantry and armour [military occupational specialties] to females?”
He emphasized no decisions have yet been made on the question, but noted the answer will have implications for all-male Army formations, including the Rangers.
Army Rangers are rapidly deployable, light infantry troops trained to engage conventional and special operations targets. While there are only three Ranger battalions, with a special troops battalion and a separate Ranger training brigade, Odierno pointed out the “Ranger tab” denoting completion of Ranger training is a key to advancement among infantry officers.
Ranger school consists of three phases — mountain, desert and swamp – over 61 days, and combines rigorous infantry training with famously sparse amounts of food and sleep.
While Odierno cautioned, “I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he noted that some 90 percent of Army senior infantry officers — all male — are Ranger-qualified.
“So, if we determine that we’re going to allow women to go into infantry, to be successful they are probably, at some time, going to have to go through Ranger school,” he said. “We have not made that decision, but it’s a factor that I’ve asked them to take a look at.”
If combat arms jobs open to female soldiers, “We want the women to be successful,” the general said.
The Army, like DOD, is committed to providing maximum opportunity for its members, Odierno said.
“We’re going to move toward it,” he said. “It’s how we do that, what we have to do, [that we’re assessing] as we move forward.”