Combat Integration: The First Year of Firsts

One year ago, I announced that the Department of Defense would be opening all combat positions to women. As I have said repeatedly over my time as Secretary, our military is strongest when we draw from a pool of all eligible women and men who possess the skills and talents necessary to meet our standards. The defense of our nation depends upon all of our people, especially the men and women who have performed so valiantly in combat over the last 15 years.

The discipline and commitment that have marked our military Services’ leadership of this change has been the keystone of our success. I’m pleased to announce that each of the military Services and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) are on track with implementation efforts and seeing positive results and lessons that will make our force stronger.

In this first year of implementation we have witnessed many “firsts” making the policy change a reality. The Army has seen the fruits of thoughtful implementation as our first 10 women graduated from the Army’s elite Ranger school. We’ve seen the Army’s first female enlisted infantry soldiers, and this week 13 women graduated from Army’s first integrated Armor Basic Officer Course.

Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander, Maneuver Center of Excellence, shakes hands with Capt. Kristen M. Griest, one of the latest Soldiers to earn the Ranger tab, Aug. 21, 2015, at Fort Benning, Ga.

Navy selected the first 38 enlisted female sailors to serve aboard a submarine, USS Michigan, in June 2015. Subsequently, the first enlisted woman earned her submariner qualification and “dolphin” pin.

Lt. j.g. Jennifer Noonan is one of three Sailors to become the first female unrestricted line officers to qualify in submarines.

The Marine Corps has also seen positive results as the first enlisted female rifleman and machine gunner made lateral move requests to infantry jobs in May 2016. Additionally, the Marine Corps’ first female field artillery officers are assigned to operating forces after completion of the Field Artillery Basic Officers Leader Course.

Second Lt. Virginia Brodie points out an enemy position to 2nd Lt. Katherine Boy at the Field Artillery Basic Officers Leadership Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, May 12, 2016. Brodie and Boy are the first two female Marine artillery officers to complete the course.

Interest in the Air Force’s battlefield airmen career fields has increased, with 18 women attempting initial training. I am proud to say that the first woman has entered training to become a tactical air control party airman.

The military Services are making positive progress by continuing to apply transparent and objective standards to all career fields, ensuring that leaders assign tasks, jobs, and career fields throughout the force based on ability, not gender. We are continuing to use standards informed by today’s real-world operational requirements and experiences gained over the last decade and a half of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, our military will be even better at finding and training not only the most qualified women, but also the most qualified men, for all military specialties. While we’ve found that the standards are challenging for both men and women, I believe that this will make our force all the more ready to defeat new and emerging threats.

Now, the fact that we’re holding everyone to the same high standards may mean that in some cases, equal opportunity may not always equate to equal participation. Army and Marine Corps have assigned female leaders (officers and/or NCOs) to serve both as role models and guides for junior enlisted women and, as appropriate, advocates for the female perspective. We do this by assigning these female leaders to newly opened training opportunities in our schools and to units prior to assigning junior enlisted women to those same organizations. This helps ensure adequate female representation in key positions. The Army has accessed or transferred 75 female leaders into combat positions.

All of the military Services have focused on educating the force as a critical component of long-term success, including training to emphasize dignity and respect, instructor training on identifying and countering unconscious bias, and training in the prevention of sexual assault/harassment, hazing, and other adverse behaviors.

Over this last year we’ve seen women service members volunteer, train, and begin serving in ground combat roles with increased recruitment efforts by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. We have watched as our policy decisions were translated into real, meaningful action, breaking down previous barriers to military service are removed and offering new opportunities by encouraging both women and men to expand their horizons by seeking out and training for elite, challenging, and rewarding combat career fields. As we take steps toward continued excellence, I encourage each of you to share these unique opportunities with women and men alike. Let’s inspire and enable future generations to ensure that the fighting force of the future remains the finest the world has ever known.