A Snapshot: Two Years into Combat Integration

By Ellen Haring
January 30, 2015

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U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno speaks with a female Soldier at the Army Ranger Training Brigade, Ranger Assessment Course during his visit to Fort Benning, Ga., Oct. 23, 2014. Gen. Odierno was visiting to discuss the progress of integrating women into the Ranger School Course. Female soldiers have until Dec. 1 to volunteer to attend Ranger School this spring as part of an assessment to determine whether and how to open combat arms military occupational specialties to women. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mikki L. Sprenkle/Released)

On January 24, 2013, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy. The Secretary gave the three services and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) until January 1, 2016, to open all positions to women or formally request an exception to keep certain positions closed. So what has changed for women in the intervening two years? Not a lot and unless the Services and SOCOM submit a whole lot of exemptions in the coming months they have a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

Certainly Special Operations Command, the self-proclaimed “quiet professionals” have lived up to their professional mantra on this matter. They have quietly opened few positions to women and have provided little information relative to any intent to expand opportunities. In late 2013, SOCOM opened a few hundred positions in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment thereby allowing women to serve in the regiment in all of the already open specialties. Women have long been flying all aircraft but they were barred from flying in this “special” unit. Now they can, and they are also newly allowed to serve on Special Forces staffs but not in their companies.

After two years 21,600 special operations positions remain closed to women. All Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders, Battlefield Airmen and miscellaneous “tactical enablers” are still closed. This month the Army announced a plan to allow women to attend Army Ranger School on a trial basis but made it clear that even if women pass the course they won’t be assigned into the 75th Ranger Regiment. More recently, the Air Force said they will open all seven remaining closed specialties, most of which require cross assignment to SOCOM, but the openings won’t begin until after the January 2016 deadline. Although the Air Force had the fewest number of closed positions and specialties, seven specialties and less than 5,000 positions, they have not opened anything in the first two years.

Like SOCOM, the Marines have opened few positions to women. More than 59,000 positions remain closed with no clear path for their opening. They altered their original plan last spring and outlined a modified plan to research and study if and how to integrate women. The modified plan included an experimental task force designed to develop gender neutral standards for collective tasks rather than focus on individual tasks, which they assert are already gender neutral and validly established. For research purposes the Marines let women attempt the entry level combat specialty courses and found that not only could many women complete the training, in many instances (with the single exception being the infantry officer course) they excelled, sometimes graduating at the top of their classes. Despite these successes the Marines have refused to open even the staffs in infantry battalions. They are awaiting the results of their ongoing experiment to decide if and how the combat specialties can be successfully integrated.

Although the Army has the preponderance of closed billets, 176,600, they outlined and published a deliberate path to open all positions and specialties and so far they have closely followed their plan. Today all units down to the company level are open. Women can now serve in infantry companies in historically open specialties like communications and supply. Additionally, the Army promised to establish a process for developing and validating gender neutral individual standards for all occupations by December 2015. That appears to be complete and standards for artillery and combat engineers are set. This spring the Army begins sequentially opening all remaining closed artillery and engineer occupations. However, while the Army promises to open Infantry and Armor specialties they are still setting standards and they won’t be open until well after the January 2016 deadline.

Although the Navy still has 32,258 positions closed they have already submitted congressional notification to open many positions in 2015. Still closed are assignments to Navy positions in Marine Corps units that remain closed to women Marines and Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL occupations. Positions for enlisted women aboard Frigates, Mine Counter Measure ships and Patrol Coastal Craft are closed due to berthing limitations. These ships will likely not be opened to women because they are scheduled for decommissioning between 2016 and 2024.

Positions and occupations closed to women as of January 1, 2015.

Organization Total Closed Closed Occupations Closed Units
Army 176,600 (48,000 opened) 14 closed occupations in Infantry, Armor, some Artillery and Engineers None except the 75th Ranger Regiment and SF Companies which fall under SOCOM
Air Force 4,900 (0 opened) 7 occupations associated with special operations None
Navy 15,763 (17,110 opened) All Special operations occupations, some occupations on frigates, coastal patrol craft and submarines. FFG, CPCs, certain submarines in older classes remain closed due to berthing restrictions–some to both officers and enlisted some to enlisted only.
Marine Corps 59,456 (5,998 opened) 20 closed occupations in Infantry, Armor, AAVs, Artillery some Engineers All Infantry and reconnaissance units
SOCOM 21,600 (7,500 opened) Special Forces, Rangers, SEALS, SWCC, Marine Raiders, Battlefield Airmen 75th Ranger Regiment, SF Companies, Marine Raiders

FFG-Frigates, CPC-Coastal Patrol Craft, AAV-Amphibious Assault Vehicle, BUD-Basic Underwater Demolition

Despite the Secretary’s directive that this change “will occur as expeditiously as possible,”  two years later women have not been permitted to qualify for most of the occupations that were closed to them on January 24, 2013.


Ellen Haring is a senior fellow at WIIS and a retired Army colonel.