Remarks on the Women-in-Service Review
Speech as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Pentagon Press Briefing Room, December 3, 2015
Before I turn to my statement on the subject about which I’d like to speak to you, I’d first like to offer my condolences to the families of those who were killed yesterday in San Bernardino, California. President Obama just spoke about this tragedy. We’re monitoring this situation closely, in coordination with the rest of the President’s national security team. Our highest priority, of course, is the protection of our people. The law enforcement community is taking the lead on this, and they’ll be able to provide more information as it becomes available. I’m confident they’ll have more answers in the days ahead.
Let me now turn to my statement.
When I became Secretary of Defense, I made a commitment to building America’s force of the future – the all-volunteer military that will defend our nation for generations to come. Like our outstanding force of today, our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer. In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent. This includes women, because they make up over 50 percent of the American population. To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country’s talents and skills. We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards.
The Defense Department has increasingly done this in recent decades – in 1975, for example, opening up the military service academies to women, and in 1993, allowing women to fly fighter jets and serve on combat ships at sea. About the same time, though, DoD also issued the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, which still prohibited women from being assigned to units whose primary mission was engaging in direct ground combat. That rule was in turn rescinded in January 2013, when then-Secretary Panetta directed that all positions be opened to qualified women by January 1st, 2016 – that is, less than one month from today – while also giving the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of the Air Force, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, three years to request any exceptions, which would have to be reviewed first by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then approved by the Secretary of Defense.
As many of you know, I was Deputy Secretary of Defense at the time. That decision reflected among other things the fact that, by that time, the issue of women in combat per se was no longer a question. It was a reality, because women had seen combat throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – serving, fighting, and in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice alongside their fellow comrades-in-arms.
We’ve made important strides over the last three years since then. We’ve seen women soldiers graduate from the Army’s Ranger School. We have women serving on submarines. And we’ve opened up over 111,000 positions to women across the services.
While that represents real progress, it also means that approximately 10 percent of positions in the military – that is, nearly 220,000 – currently remain closed to women…including infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and some special operations units.
Over the last three years, the senior civilian and military leaders across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command have been studying the integration of women into these positions, and last month I received their recommendations – as well as the data, studies, and surveys on which they were based – regarding whether any of those remaining positions warrant a continued exemption from being opened to women.
I reviewed these inputs carefully, and today I’m announcing my decision not to make continued exceptions – that is, to proceed with opening all these remaining occupations and positions to women. There will be no exceptions.
This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that previously was open only to men. And even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.
‘No exceptions’ was the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Navy, as well as the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. While the Marine Corps asked for a partial exception in some areas such as infantry, machine gunner, fire support, reconnaissance, and others, we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force.
Let me explain how I came to this decision.
First, I’ve been mindful of several key principles throughout this process.
One is that mission effectiveness is most important. Defending this country is our primary responsibility, and it cannot be compromised. That means everyone who serves in uniform – men and women alike – has to be able to meet the high standards for whatever job they’re in. To be sure, fairness is also important – because everyone who’s able and willing to serve their country, who can meet those standards, should have the full and equal opportunity to do so. But the important factor in making my decision was to have access to every American who could add strength to the joint force. Now more than ever, we cannot afford to have barriers limiting our access to talent.
The past three years of extensive studies and reviews leading up to this decision – all of which we’re going to post online, by the way – have led to genuine insights and real progress. Where we found that some standards previously were either outdated or didn’t reflect the tasks actually required in combat, important work has been done to ensure each position now has standards that are grounded in real-world operational requirements, both physical and otherwise – so we’re positioned to be better at finding not only the most qualified women, but also the most qualified men, for military specialties.
Another principle is that the careful implementation of integrating women into combat positions would be a key to success – implementation – and also that any decision to do so or not would have to be based on rigorous analysis of factual data. And that’s exactly how we’ve conducted this review. It’s been evidence-based and iterative.