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Defense chief asks military not to discuss women in combat review

Defense chief asks military not to discuss women in combat review
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter is asking military and civilian leaders involved with his pending decision to open all combat jobs to women by January to not discuss the issue without approval.

"Until I make the final decision, further public discussion of the [Women in Service Review (WISR)] process is neither helpful or prudent," said an Oct. 2 memo signed by Carter and obtained by The Hill. 

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"External communication by any official within the Department of Defense regarding specific WISR deliberations and deliberative documents must be coordinated and approved in advance with the Deputy Secretary of Defense," the memo said. 

The review, begun in 2013, was intended to give the military services time to study and implement an order by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to open all combat jobs to women by January 2016 or else submit requests to the Defense secretary by Sept. 30 for exceptions. 

The memo, which was addressed to service secretaries and chiefs, as well as to the under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness and to the assistant to the secretary of Defense for public affairs, was meant to provide "guidance" as Carter nears a decision on whether to open all combat jobs to women. 

However, the memo has been seen as a gag order by some, preventing public scrutiny of the data being reviewed in the debate.

At issue is an extensive review the Marine Corps conducted on mixed-gender units in simulated combat situations.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, has recommended that the infantry remained closed to women based on that study, which found that mixed-gender units did not perform as well.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who is also the service secretary for the Marine Corps, has called the study flawed and said he intends to recommend all Navy and Marine Corps jobs be opened to women. 

While the summary of the study said that those units performed less effectively than all-male units, the full study itself has not been released, despite calls from members of Congress, advocates of women in combat and journalists. 

In response to a question on Sept. 15 as to whether Carter instructed the Marine Corps not to release the full study, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said, "I'm not aware that they've been told not to release [it]. 

"What [we] have been made aware of is that all of the services were told that any of the background information material supporting their position with regard to women in service, would be coordinated, put together and would be released at the appropriate time in the future," he said. 

The memo also states Carter intends to review recommendations from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who is now Dunford, the service secretaries and chiefs and from U.S. Special Operations Command. 

"I want to hear from everyone before I make a final decision. I am less interested in who is making a particular recommendation and more interested in the reasoning behind it," Carter said. 

"My ultimate decision regarding any exception to policy request will be based on the analytic underpinnings and the data supporting them," he said.