|By Karen Parish, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Army leaders are asking whether — and how — to open
infantry and armor ranks to women, the service’s senior Soldier said May
Officers in charge of training and force development now are gathering
data to help answer those questions, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T.
Odierno told reporters during a Pentagon briefing.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond
T. Odierno addresses the press about future changes in the
Army’s structure and size, including the expansion of women’s
roles in combat forces, at the Pentagon.
(Photo by Glenn Fawcett)
In line with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s policy, the service
already has opened 13,000 previously all-male positions to female
Soldiers, the general noted.
“Earlier this week more than 200 women began reporting to the maneuver
battalions in nine of our brigade combat teams, selected to participate
in the exception to the direct ground combat assignment rule,” he said.
“Additionally, co-location (with combat units) as an assignment
restriction is rescinded.”
A Defense Department report to Congress in February outlining the
assignment policy changes included a vision statement that said the
department “is committed to removing all barriers that would prevent
servicemembers from rising to the highest level of responsibility that
their talents and capabilities warrant.”
Odierno noted the changes open new opportunities to women, who comprise
16 percent of the Army’s ranks. “This revision … allows us to leverage
the tremendous talent resident in our ranks,” he added.
Women likely will filter in to the new positions for “several months,”
the Army chief said. Two categories of assignments are now open to
women: jobs such as tank mechanic and field artillery radar operator
that are necessarily performed close to combat units, and a limited
“exception to policy” opening select positions at the battalion level in
jobs women already occupy.
“My guess is, based on my experience in Iraq and what I’ve seen in
Afghanistan, we’ll then move forward with a more permanent solution
(involving those two assignment categories) inside of the Army probably
sometime this fall,” he said.
Odierno said the next step is “to look at, do we open up infantry and
armor (military occupational specialties) to females?”
He emphasized no decisions have yet been made on the question, but noted
the answer will have implications for all-male Army formations,
including the Rangers.
Army Rangers are rapidly deployable, light infantry troops trained to
engage conventional and special operations targets. While there are only
three Ranger battalions, with a special troops battalion and a separate
Ranger training brigade, Odierno pointed out the “Ranger tab” denoting
completion of Ranger training is a key to advancement among infantry
Ranger school consists of three phases — mountain, desert and swamp —
over 61 days, and combines rigorous infantry training with famously
sparse amounts of food and sleep.
While Odierno cautioned, “I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he noted
that some 90 percent of Army senior infantry officers — all male — are
“So, if we determine that we’re going to allow women to go into
infantry, to be successful they are probably, at some time, going to
have to go through Ranger school,” he said. “We have not made that
decision, but it’s a factor that I’ve asked them to take a look at.”
If combat arms jobs open to female Soldiers, “We want the women to be
successful,” the general said.
The Army, like the Department of Defense, is committed to providing
maximum opportunity for its members, Odierno said.
“We’re going to move toward it,” he said. “It’s how we do that, what we
have to do, (that we’re assessing) as we move forward.”