Pentagon Moves to Ease Restrictions on Women in Combat

Posted February 9th, 2012 at 3:25 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The Pentagon is unveiling plans to allow women to serve in military jobs closer to the front lines.

The new rules would ease restrictions on women in combat, reflecting the realities of the past decade of war. Officials say the changes would formally open about 14,000 jobs to women. Female service members would be able to assume positions, such as medic and intelligence officer, in battalions, which are closer to the fighting and were previously considered too dangerous for women.

The changes mainly affect the Army and Marine Corps. Women would still be prohibited from serving in infantry, armor and special operations units.

The Defense Department is sending the new plan Thursday to Congress, which has a period of time to delay or block it before it takes effect.

The Pentagon report comes nearly a year after an independent panel, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, urged the military to lift its ban on women in combat.

Under a policy adopted in 1994, women have been prohibited from serving in combat units below the brigade level. A brigade level is a force of about 3,500 troops, split into the smaller battalions, which are closer to the fighting. The military has gotten around the rules by attaching women to battalions, but not officially assigning them.

Critics say the restrictions have held women back from senior leadership positions, as combat experience is a factor in promotion.

Opposition to women serving in combat has centered on whether they have the needed physical strength, or whether their presence might disrupt unit cohesion.

Despite rules to keep women off the battlefield, in wars like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, battle lines are often blurred. The Pentagon says at least 144 women service members have been killed in the two wars and more than 850 women wounded.