Pentagon opens all combat jobs to women

Pentagon opens all combat jobs to women
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In a historic move, Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday announced that the military will open all combat jobs to women.

"There will be no exceptions," Carter said at a briefing, adding that meant women could serve as Army Rangers, Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

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The decision comes after a review of recommendations from service leaders and military officials submitted earlier this year.

"The important factor in making my decision was to have access to every American who can add strength to the joint force," Carter said, adding that women have seen combat throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some being killed. 

Notably absent from the announcement was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who as Marine Corps commandant recommended that Marine infantry remain closed to women. 

Carter said he and Dunford had discussed the issue "many, many times." 

"He will be a full part of implementation," Carter said. "My decision is my decision." 

The Marine Corps conducted a study earlier this year that found mixed-gender teams were less effective at combat tasks than male-only units. 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus dismissed that study as "flawed," rankling some lawmakers such as Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine and Iraq veteran. 

Mabus, who has also served as the service secretary for the Marine Corps, praised Carter's decision on Thursday, saying it would "maximize the combat effectiveness of the Navy and Marine Corps.

"Our process and studies showed that as long as someone can meet operationally relevant, occupation-specific, gender-neutral individual standards, that person is qualified to serve," Mabus said. "Gender does not define the Service of a United States Sailor or Marine — instead, it is their character, selflessness, and abilities."

Carter said "mission effectiveness" and "high standards" were most important, but that "fairness is also important." 

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2013 lifted the ban on women serving in combat jobs that were previously closed to them, but he gave the services until early 2016 to request exceptions.

Since Panetta’s decision, 11,000 combat positions had been opened to women, including on submarines. The Army opened its male-only elite Ranger School to women earlier this year after two women passed the course. 

But approximately 10 percent of combat positions had remained closed to women, including in the infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and special operations. 

The decision on whether to open all combat jobs had not been expected to come until early next year, and its likely to stir controversy.

Critics say opening combat jobs to women could reduce the effectiveness of the military, and lead to increased cases of sexual assault. 

The opening of combat jobs to women has also raised the question of whether all women are now eligible for the draft — something Carter said is now the subject of litigation. 

The military services have 30 days to implement the decision, per a congressional waiting period, he said. 

"I'm confident the department can implement this successfully," Carter said. 

- This story was updated at 1:18 p.m.