Rangers, SEALs may open to women

WASHINGTON — Women may be able to start training as Army Rangers by mid-2015 and as Navy SEALs a year later under plans set to be announced by the Pentagon that would slowly bring women into thousands of combat jobs, including those in elite special operations forces.

Details of the plans were obtained by The Associated Press. They call for requiring women and men to meet the same physical and mental standards to quality for certain infantry, armor, commando and other front-line positions across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reviewed the plans and has ordered the services to move ahead.

The move, expected to be announced today, follows revelations of a startling number of sexual assaults in the armed forces. Earlier this year, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the sexual assaults might be linked to the longstanding ban on women serving in combat because the disparity between the roles of men and women creates separate classes of personnel — male “warriors” versus the rest of the force.

While the sexual assault problem is more complicated than that, he said, the disparity has created a psychology that lends itself to disrespect for women.

Under the schedules military leaders delivered to Hagel, the Army will develop standards by July 2015 to allow women to train and potentially serve as Rangers, and qualified women could begin training as Navy SEALS by March 2016 if senior leaders agree. Military leaders have suggested bringing senior women from the officer and enlisted ranks into special forces units first to ensure that younger, lower-ranking women have a support system to help them get through the transition.

The Navy intends to open up its Riverine force and begin training women next month, with the goal of assigning women to the units by October. While not part of the special operations forces, the coastal Riverine squadrons do close combat and security operations in small boats. The Navy plans to have studies finished by July 2014 on allowing women to serve as SEALs, and has set October 2015 as the date when women could begin Navy boot camp with the expressed intention of becoming SEALs eventually.

U.S. Special Operations Command is coordinating the matter of what commando jobs could be opened to women, what exceptions might be requested and when the transition would take place.

The proposals leave the door open for continued exclusion of women from some jobs, if research and testing find that women could not be successful in sufficient numbers, but the services would have to defend such decisions to top Pentagon leaders.

Army officials plan to complete gender-neutral standards for the Ranger course by July 2015. Army Rangers are one of the service’s special operations units, but many soldiers who go through Ranger training and wear the coveted tab on their shoulders never actually serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. To be considered a true Ranger, soldiers must serve in the regiment.

In January, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey signed an order that wiped away generations of limits on where and how women could fight for their country. At the time, they asked the services to develop plans to set the change in motion.

Timeline

1948 — Law passed making women a permanent part of the U.S. military services

1975 — The Air Force puts the first woman on operational crew status

1976 — The first group of women enters the U.S. military academies, as directed by legislation signed by President Gerald Ford a year earlier.

1983 — About 200 Army and Air Force women are among the forces deployed to Grenada, serving on air crews, as military police and as transportation specialists

1990-91 — Some 40,000 American military women are deployed during the Gulf War operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Iraqis take two Army women prisoner

1994 — A Pentagon policy prohibits women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. Historically, brigades — which are about 3,500 troops — were based farther from the front lines, and they often included top command and support staff.

2002 — Marine Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters becomes the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the post 9/11 wars. She was killed in a refueling tanker crash.

2005 — Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, a Kentucky National Guard soldier, becomes the first woman awarded the Silver Star for service in the war on terror. Her convoy came under attack outside Baghdad. She was cited for killing several insurgents and saving the lives of numerous convoy members.

2008 — Ann E. Dunwoody becomes the military’s first women to be promoted to general. She retired in 2012 after 38 years in the Army.

2012 — The military opens more than 14,000 jobs in smaller units closer to the front lines

2013 — Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, sign order saying women must have the same opportunities as men in combat jobs. Military services begin studies to determine how and when to bring women into all jobs, probably including in at least some commando units

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