Marine Corps students with Infantry Training Battalion practice basic marksmanship techniques in September at Camp Geiger, N.C. The students are part of the first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women. (Sgt. Tyler Main / Marine Corps)
Pentagon official say they have no intention of creating special fitness standards for women who want to serve in combat jobs — but Congress wants to see that promise in law.
The 2014 defense authorization bill that is nearing completion includes a provision that will require the Pentagon to create a “gender-neutral occupational standard” for any combat jobs — infantry, armor, artillery and others — that are opened to women.
The new law comes in response to the military’s controversial policy that aims to open up nearly all military jobs to women by the end of 2015. For years, several hundred thousand jobs have been closed to women, but the Pentagon announced plans earlier this year to eliminate all gender-based restrictions.
The provision in the defense bill also calls on the individual service secretaries to “develop, review, and validate individual occupational standards” relating to women in combat no later than September 2015, or several months before the hard deadline for opening up those jobs.
The new provision was advocated by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunter has repeatedly voiced concerns that political pressures to bring women into combat career fields could result in a lowering of standards that puts troops at greater risk.
The top brass have sought to dispel those concerns by repeatedly stating that standards will remain unchanged.
The Marine Corps recently saw three enlisted women graduate from its grueling nine-week infantry training course in North Carolina, but for now those women will not be assigned to serve in combat jobs with an infantry unit. The Corps plans to continue studying the issue before unveiling a formal integration plan.
The strongest pushback so far has come from officers in the U.S. Special Operations Command, who fear integrating women will jeopardize the unit cohesion of the small —typically 12-person — special operations teams.
Advocates of the change say women have served in dangerous, combat-related jobs for years but their careers suffer because promotion boards cannot official recognize that service.