Friday, December 4, 2015
Yesterday, the government announced that women will be permitted to apply for or be assigned to any position within the armed forces. This includes combat based positions. In one of the last situations of overt sex discrimination, women were excluded from consideration for many combat positions, even though many found themselves in combat situations. With the latest policy change, women may apply for all combat positions, including front line ones. Similarly, they may be assigned to combat by the chain of command.
While the Marines, through now Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, requested discretion to determine which positions would be open to women soldiers, Secretary of Defense Carter made clear that there would be no exceptions to the policy change.
The removal of this disqualification raises the issue of whether or not women will be subject to selective service requirements. That will be a discussion for another day and one on which Secretary Carter refused to comment.
Secretary Carter said that the Pentagon "can't afford to omit half of America's population from consideration".
He added that since the 1970s, women have been able to attend U.S. service academies, and that in the early 1990s women's military roles were expanded, with each branch allowed to make some exceptions that kept women out of combat.
Ultimately, we can thank four courageous servicewomen who sued then Secretary of Defense Panetta for the failure of the armed forces to permit women in combat roles. Within a few months of suit being filed, Panetta agreed that gradually women would be allowed in combat positions. Yesterday the end to this particular discrimination became final.