Over the next two years, the military promises to figure out how to open thousands of combat jobs to women in infantry, artillery, armor and more.
After a decade in which thousands of women have proved their courage and professionalism in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a worthy goal. But what’s driving this change is a sexual assault scandal and a push to change the culture and mindset of the force, not a pure response to women’s performance in the war zone.
The difference is important, because it could have an impact on the results.
Two decades ago another sexual assault scandal, this one flowing from the the 1991 Tailhook convention in which at least 83 women were groped and assaulted by naval aviators at a Las Vegas hotel, prompted a rush to train women as fighter pilots.
Critics charged the Navy lowered its standards to ensure those women got through training quickly; after one died in a crash and three others were grounded for poor performance, the evidence suggests there was truth behind the allegations.
This time, the Army and Marine Corps have pledged to establish gender-neutral standards for combat jobs to ensure that when women qualify, they really will be up to the task.
Many of the positions under review are closed to women precisely because they are the most physically demanding jobs in the military. Doubtless, some women can meet the qualifications; how many remains to be seen.
But as this initiative moves forward, standards must not be sacrificed in the process.