The results of this summer's test to set gender-neutral standards for combat jobs — which could pave the way to opening up the last six male-only Air Force combat jobs to women — aren't in yet.

But Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, the director of military force management policy, said Tuesday that many of the roughly 70 women who took part in the test at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas are certain that they kept up with the men in the test and — if they wanted it bad enough — could hack it as Air Force special operators.

"These 70 women weren't existing special operations airmen ... so these were volunteers from a variety of other career fields," some of whom came from desk jobs, Kelly said at a news conference at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference. "And they would say, in lots of cases, they were able to compete with and stay up with the men. There were some tasks where they would say that if they had known that was the task and they had the ability to train to that, over time they were pretty comfortable they would be able to do that over time."

When asked if most of the female test subjects had that confidence, Kelly said, "Absolutely."

"There was confidence that if they really had the desire to do that career field and had the ability to train to it, the test subjects that we put through it all thought that they could be able to accomplish the tasks and be successful," Kelly said.

All of the military services are The entire military is now in the process of deciding whether to open up the last combat jobs to women. By the end of September, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and the other service secretaries will submit their recommendations to Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Carter is expected to issue his own recommendations on which jobs to open up around Jan. 1, when Congress will then choose to act on or not.

James has said that she wants to open up these last Air Force jobs to women, and that the burden of proof will be high for anyone who wants to keep any of them closed.

There are six jobs encompassing about 4,000 special operations positions that are still closed to women: 13C special tactics officers, 13D combat rescue officers, 1W0X2 special operations weather enlisted, 1C2 combat control, 1C4 Tactical Air Control Party and 1T2 pararescue.

Other services have sent female service members through their special operations training programs, such as the Army's Ranger school, to see the women whether they do the job.

But that wasn't an option for the Air Force, Kelly said. Air Force That service's special operations career fields have training pipelines of two to three years, which meant there was no way to they could send female airmen through in time to meet the Pentagon's deadline for a decision.

So instead, the Air Force in April started testing 175 male and female volunteers over two months on the kind of physical challenges they would face on the battlefield. For example, battlefield airmen might have to carry a wounded comrade on a litter up a ramp into a C-17 aircraft. To find out what it would take for an airman — male or female — to do that job, Lackland built a structure to the specifications of a C-17 ramp, and then had the volunteers carry a simulated litter to the top of the ramp, raise it, hold it, and then mount it in the simulated aircraft.

The Air Force plans to use those results to set the first gender-neutral occupational standards for those jobs, linked to specific tasks battlefield airmen are will be expected to do in combat. Because setting up real-life scenarios to test those battlefield abilities would be too complicated and expensive to do on a regular basis, the Air Force is trying to match each of those tasks with regular physical fitness tests, such as pullups, distance runs, lunges, standing long jumps and dead lifts.

"If you can do that job, then it doesn't matter what your gender is, or who you are, as long as you can perform that standard," Kelly said. "Once we have those [operational standards], we can be sure they're gender-neutral because they're directly tied to operational tasks that have to be performed on the battlefield."

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

In Other News
Load More