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U.S. Armed Forces Officials Confirm: Women Will Serve as Army Rangers, SEALs, and Marine Infantry

When Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the official repeal of the U.S. Armed Forces’ ban on women in combat, it was clear that, though it would come at a measured pace and perhaps wouldn’t have the most obvious differences, change would come for the 15% of the U.S. military who are women. Today, senior defense officials told the New York Times that women will be permitted to apply and earn a place among the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Marine infantry.

Probably not all three at the same time. Though, should someone ever achieve this, I’d love to shake her hand.

In January, the plan was that the various armed forces would have three years, until January 2016, to examine the 230,000 jobs that had just opened up to female soldiers and determine what changes would need to be made to requirements, training, and facilities before women could be integrated into them without reducing the military’s standards. There was some speculation that after those evaluations, women would still be barred from serving “as infantry troops or in elite special-operations units,” but it’s hard to get more elite than the SEALs, the Army Rangers, or Marine infantry.

As we’ve talked about before on the site: the reason why repealing the ban on women serving in combat is so important isn’t because women in the modern U.S. military were being prevented from fighting. The fact is, they were already being put in combat: more than one hundred fifty women have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve been “attached” to combat units, flown helicopters that were shot down, and accompanied male soldiers so that there would be someone who could talk to conservative Muslim women without breaking local law. What the ineffective combat ban actually did was prevent women from receiving the training and equipment of their male counterparts (because the fact that they would be seeing combat could not be officially acknowledged), and threw huge hurdles in the ability of women to rise to ranks commensurate with their experience and accomplishments (because the fact that they had seen combat could not be officially acknowledged, or because experience with and accomplishments in combat situations are a factor in many military positions).

And it’s hard not to see this as a bit of progress on the fight against sexual assault and rape culture in America’s military. Said General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in January:

We’ve had this ongoing issue with sexual harassment, sexual assault. 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 when you have one part of the population that is designated as warriors and another part that’s designated as something else, I think that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to that environment. I have to believe, the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.

I’d add that the prospect that more women would have the opportunity to officially gain the experience that would allow them to reach higher positions in the U.S. military likely means more people in higher positions who have a view of sexual harassment more nuanced then “well what do you expect,” or “lets pretend it doesn’t happen.”

(via The New York Times.)


  • Benjamin Meis

    I am all for this, provided one thing remains true: Female recruits must qualify and train to the exact same standards as their male counterparts. No double standards, whatsoever, not when lives are on the line (I just wish fire departments would adopt this sort of policy). This being the case, more power to anyone – male or female – who participates in military service. I have nothing but respect for those who lay their lives on the line to defend their home and families.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    I remember a similar desire from female firefighters on a site I frequent: they saw an initiative to lower the strength requirement so more women could be firefighters. They disliked the change because it meant that their female co-workers may not have the strength to drag them or others out of a building. It’s not discrimination if the job requires specific attributes which preclude some members of the community.

    Extremely well said, Benjamin Meis!

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Of course, what struck me as awesome about this pronouncement … we will have a real life Vasquez soon!

  • Anne Trotter

    In my lifetime. In my motherfucking lifetime, yes. Not in time for me to try for it but – while I’m alive.

  • Anne Trotter

    While I agree with the sentiment, and while I’ve made this argument many times – that across the board Army physical fitness qualifications should be replaced with duty-specific requirements, and women should be held to the same physical standards within those core job competencies – the fact that you’re so nervous about how they’d implement it depresses me.

  • Benjamin Meis

    Kinda depressing to me too – I was raised that if you are going to do a job, you needed to be qualified for it, male or female, and that way you’d know you were deserving of the job you held. Not only does the practice of physical double standards seem to be incredibly dangerous in practice, but rather insulting to women in general. How can you feel that you are competent and earned that job properly, when you didn’t do the same things half of your coworkers did? Unfortunately, its an all too common practice, which is why I felt the need to comment.

  • Fisty

    Great news. Maybe our representatives will think twice about going to war when it’s their daughters shipping out to fight on the front lines.

  • Brian

    Ha, yeah, sure. They’ll be sending their daughters to war. Rich white girls are all the time joining the Army. How many congresspeople have kids in the military now? Like two or three?

  • Rizz Rustbolt

    Marine Recon says, “Welcome to the future.”

  • Anne Trotter

    Although my comment was more about seeing the first comment on here being cautionary instead of celebratory, your statement was in fact valid; so far the military’s record of treating people “equally” has not been stellar.

    For me, this is a huge and very personal victory. I spent 6 years in the Army arguing with every guy I met that certain women could haul ass as well as men, given the opportunity, and that the opportunity should be provided. (They often disagreed on both counts.) I had to prove over and over and over again in every new unit (and boy did that get boring) that I wasn’t another baby girl who needed to be carried along and pampered by her stronger male colleagues, whose thought she should should get awards simply for trying.

    This is also one of the arguments I’ve tried to use to persuade both men and other women that if men are going to be forced to register for the draft, women need to have the same requirement levied. How can we ever be equal if an equal burden isn’t on us? How can you call special treatment and different standards equality?

    The author Elizabeth Moon went through it worse – I was in during the 90′s, she was in during the Vietnam war, and she’s mentioned how much of a struggle it was to be a woman and taken seriously. A lot of women who want the military and government service for a career have been saying the same thing over and over and over, since we started as a country and the first woman tried to enlist and had to hide her gender. It’s only taken oh, 200 years or so for it to sink in.

    So for me, and for others, this is a major day. Despite the cavets, despite the cautions – there’s definitely a celebration to be had here for women who want to serve, with all that entails, and not just in a protected and carefully mediated play-pretend military designed specifically for them.

  • Anonymous

    What makes you think, besides an obvious bias, that they wouldn’t treat women the same way they treat men and use the same standards?

  • Benjamin Meis

    Because, historically speaking, that has been how they’ve handled it.

  • I’m Just Saiyan

    At last.