Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifts military ban on women serving in combat

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood arrive on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for the Presidential Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. (AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in one of his final acts before stepping down from his post, announced Wednesday he was lifting the military’s ban on women serving in combat, The Associate Press reports.

The move overturns a 1994 Pentagon policy that barred women from serving in direct ground combat units.

In one of the more recent moves toward integrating women into forward-deployed combat positions, the Marine Corps opened its Infantry Officers Course to women, planning to admit up to 100
women in a one-year experiment. Two female Marines have so far signed up and begun training;neither completed the grueling 13-week program.

On Dec. 13, the Congressional Research Service issued the report: Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, authored by David F. Burrelli Specialist in Military Manpower Policy

Here’s an abbreviated timeline of the changing status of women in the military, from the early 1900s, pulled from Burrelli’s report:

In 1908, Congress enacted language which lead to the creation of the Navy Nurse Corps.

In 1918, the Secretary of the Navy allowed women to sign up for clerical duties in the Marine Corps;

In 1918, the Secretary of the Navy allowed women to enroll for clerical duty.

In 1942, Congress opened the Naval Reserve to women

In 1942, the Coast Guard created the women reserves know as SPARs.

On May 14, 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was created “for noncombatant service with the Army of the United States for the purpose of making available to the national defense when needed the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of this Nation.”

More than a year later, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was made a part of the regular Army on a temporary basis.

In 1943, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was established

In 1948, Congress made women a permanent part of the military services. The Women’s Armed Services integration Act of 1948 limited the proportion of women in the military to two percent of the enlisted force and 10 percent of officers. This limit was repealed in 1967.

In the years that followed the passage of the Women’s Integration Act of 1948, women made up a relatively small proportion of the armed forces—less than one percent until 1973. By 1997, women accounted for 13.6 percent of the active duty end-strength, increasing to 14.5 percent by September, 2011.

Two major factors led to the expansion of the role of women in the armed forces. First, after the end of the draft and the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force in December 1973, the military services had difficulty in recruiting and retaining enough qualified males, thereby turning attention to recruiting women. Second, the movement for equal rights for women, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, led to demands for equal opportunity in all fields, including national defense, and a gradual removal of the restrictions against them.

In 1974, the age requirement for women enlisting without parental consent was made the same as for men.12 In the next year, legislation was enacted that allowed women to be admitted to the three service academies.

In 1977, Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to submit to Congress a definition of the term “combat” and recommendations for expanding job classifications for female members of the armed forces.

In 1978, women were permitted to be assigned permanent duty on noncombatant Navy ships, and up to six months of temporary duty on other ships.

The Senate Armed Services Committee commented on women in combat in its report concerning the re-institution of registration for the Selective Service in 1979. Citing military and other reasons for differential treatment of men and women by Selective Service, the Committee stated:

The committee feels strongly that it is not in the best interest of our national defense to
register women for the Military Selective Service Act, which would provide needed military
personnel upon mobilization or in the event of a peacetime draft for the armed forces.

In February 1988, the Department of Defense adopted a “risk rule” that excluded women from noncombat units or missions if the risks of exposure to direct combat, hostile fire, or capture were equal to or greater than the risks in the combat units they support.

The GAO reported that approximately one-half of the active duty military positions were opened to women.

On April 28, 1993, then-Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, released a memorandum directing the Services to open more positions to women and establishing an implementation committee to review and make recommendations on such implementation issues.

On January 13, 1994, Secretary Aspin lifted the 1988 risk rule. Effective October 1, 1994, he approved a new assignment rule:

A. Rule. Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are
qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade
level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground, as defined below.

B. Definition. Direct ground combat is engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or
crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct
physical contact with the hostile force’s personnel. Direct ground combat takes place well
forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire,
maneuver, or shock effect.

In 2006, Congress enacted language prohibiting any change in existing policies without the
Secretary of Defense first notifying Congress of such changes followed by a waiting period.

In 2010, the Navy notified Congress that it was modifying its policy to allow women to serve as permanent crew members aboard submarines.

The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 contained language establishing the Military Leadership Diversity Commission. Among its duties, the Commission was to conduct a study and file a report regarding diversity issues in the Armed Forces with attention to the “establishment and maintenance of fair promotion and command opportunities for ethnic- and gender-specific members of the Armed Forces at the O-5 grade level and above.”

During hearings held in 2010, Defense Department officials stated that they were looking at the assignment issue regarding women as part of their three-year cyclic review and expected to make their recommendations to their leadership within a few months.

In March, 2011, the Commission released its report, “From Representation To Inclusion:
Diversity Leadership and the 21st-Century Military.” Among its recommendations
relevant to the issue of women in the military:

DOD and the Services should eliminate the “combat exclusion policies” for women,
including the removal of barriers and inconsistencies, to create a level playing field for all
qualified service members.

DOD and the Services should take deliberate steps in a phased approach to open
additional career fields and units involved in “direct ground combat” to qualified

Some provisions of the Ike Skelton National Defense Act for Fiscal Year 2011:

(a) REVIEW REQUIRED—The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretaries
of the military departments, shall conduct a review of laws, policies, and regulations,
including the collocation policy, that may restrict the service of female members of the
Armed Forces to determine whether changes in such laws, policies, and regulations are
needed to ensure that female members have equitable opportunities to compete and excel in the Armed Forces.

(b) SUBMISSION OF RESULTS—Not later than April 15, 2011, the Secretary of Defense
shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report containing the results of the review.

In February 2012, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) released its report.46 In the conclusion, it stated:

The Department intends to:
1. Eliminate the co-location exclusion from the 1994 policy;
2. As an exception to policy, allow Military Department Secretaries to assign women in open occupational specialties to select units and positions at the battalion level (for Army, Navy, and Marine Corps) whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground;
3. Based on the exception to the policy, assess the suitability and relevance of the direct
ground combat unit assignment prohibition to inform policy decisions; and
4. Pursue the development of gender-neutral physical standards for occupational specialties closed due to physical requirements.

Jan. 23, 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifts the military ban on women serving in combat.

“This ruling allows women to serve in combat and creates tens of thousand of new
jobs for women in the military,” said Melinda Tremaglio, of Palm Springs, who formerly served in the U.S. Army.  ”It also leads to career advancement and higher pay.”

Tremaglio serves as president of the Palm Springs chapter of the National Organization for Women.

“I joined the military right out of high school in 1960 during the Cuban missle crisis and I was stationed at Fort McClellan in Alabama,” she said. “I was not allowed to join the men in some training sessions because of this ‘no women in combat rule.’ I believe you should be allowed to serve in combat, if you are fit and qualified, regardless of gender.”

“I was thrown out of the military for being gay in 1962. Fifty years ago I wanted to join the men in combat and fight for my country. Today, 50 years later, I want an end to all wars and violence.”