Women will be in all combat units by 2016, the Pentagon asserted Tuesday, which means that even traditionally all-male special forces units like the Army Rangers, Green Berets, and Navy SEALs could find female additions soon. Although many of the top leaders of the Army, Navy and Marines are supportive of the idea, others are not, and have concerns about the integration process.
Women will be in all combat units mainly because of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said in January that women will be integrated into infantry and special forces. Currently, women serve in various other capacities including gun crews, air crews, and as seaman- some of which have been involved in firefights.
"The department remains committed to removing all gender barriers wherever possible and meeting our missions with the best qualified and most capable personnel," current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo released Tuesday.
"I remain confident that we will retain the trust and confidence of the American people by opening positions to women, while ensuring that all members entering these newly opened positions can meet the standards required to maintain our warfighting capability," he added.
Though most are of the position that women should fight in combat situations- 200,000 women are already part of the armed forces, and countries like France, Germany, Israel and Australia have women on the front lines- some feel the integration could be messy or distracting if not done carefully. One such person is Rep. Duncan Hunter, who believes the military should not alter standards in the name of inclusion.
Standards should be "based on what an individual can accomplish, what they can lift or what they can do to get into a specific military occupational specialty that has physical requirements," he told UTSandiego.com, instead of policies of inclusion or quotas.
Others feel that men and women shouldn't fight on the front lines together at all, especially in particularly tight-knit units like the Navy SEALs. J.E. McCollough, a Marine who served two tours in Iraq and earned a Purple Heart feels that with the rise of sexual assaults, sexual liaisons, pregnancies, and other drama in the military, young soldiers would do better if the genders were kept apart.
"Men and women side-by-side in the same infantry units will almost certainly lead to more problems and a weaker military," he told Time magazine. "Since modern warfare inevitably puts women into combat, I believe those units should be gender-segregated. That would give the nation the best of both worlds: allowing women full access to opportunities afforded to men, while preserving military readiness."
The Pentagon seems to be aware of these issues, and are giving commanders some breathing room to evaluate how best to integrate women into these positions in a "measured and responsible" way. One example could be the testing of women vs. men when lifting a 55-pound tank round repeatedly. Congress would be notified of results.
"There is an understanding that doing this right takes a period of time," Juliet Beyler, who directs the officer and enlisted personnel management, told CNN.