New Pentagon rules allow women to serve closer to combat

The policy review comes in response to a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, where women were often exposed to combat and were “attached” informally to combat units.

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About 13,000 of the new positions open to women are in the Army, said Vee Penrod, deputy undersecretary of Defense for military personnel.

“We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), an Armed Services Committee member, said that she welcomed the new changes, but that they still did not go far enough.

“I am very disappointed the Department of Defense has not repealed its direct combat unit assignment prohibition,” Sanchez said in a statement, “instead choosing to open a few positions at the battalion level to basically create a pilot program, which I believe is ridiculous, considering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a pilot in themselves.”

Pentagon officials said they felt more study was needed before they could remove restrictions on women in combat, as well as develop gender-neutral standards. Penrod said the Defense Department was planning to follow up on the report in six months, though it had no timeframe yet on when it would develop the new standards.

“This is an incremental step in taking the experiences of the attachments, the future experiences of the women we assign,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, principal director for military personnel policy.

The changes announced Thursday are expected to take effect in the spring.

Congress tasked the Pentagon with conducting the review of women in the military, and the report released Thursday was due to Congress last spring.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that the Defense Department wanted to be thorough in its review, and said that more jobs were opened to women as a result of the delay.

Penrod said that across the four services, 238,000 positions remain closed to women. The review found that the Army has the most positions closed to women, at 34 percent, followed by the Marines at 32 percent. The Air Force has 99 percent of its positions open to women.

The report said that there wasn’t an indication women had “less than equitable opportunities to compete and excel under current assignment.”