Department of Defense opens all combat roles to women

All combat roles in the military are now open to eligible women, according to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who announced the policy change this past December at the Pentagon. For the first time in the history of the United States’ Department of Defense, women who meet the qualifications will not be disregarded because of their gender. According to the Military Times, women will now be able to “drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat…. [They will also] be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men,” stated Mr. Carter.

Ms. Heather Panahi, Social Studies teacher and advisor for the Model United Nations team, believes that the decision was “a logical step in the right direction since [the country] has started to talk about gender equality in America…and to suggest that women are below men due to their gender is ridiculous. I anticipate there will be a backlash as always when issues of gender equity arise, but this is the 21st century.”

The question of whether women will now need to register with the Selective Service and be potentially drafted into the military has now come into the spotlight. Currently in the United States all men age 18 and above must register with the Selective Service. While a decision has not been made whether women age 18 and older will have to register with the Selective Service, the current generation of female high school students and onward will be affected if the Department of Defense makes this decision.

Not all military branches are happy with this new policy. According to NBC News, over the past three years “the Marines [completed] a nearly year-long, multi-million dollar research study to determine whether female Marines could serve in combat roles.” Following the release of the study, the Marines declared that all-male units would perform better in combat than in units of both men and women, while also “[requesting] an exception to prohibit women from serving in certain areas and provided data and surveys to back up their concerns about the ability to perform and a higher number of injuries.”

The Marine Corps was the the only Department of Defense that asked for exceptions to the decision. In response to the Marines’ request, Carter has said that “there will be no exceptions,” according to The New York Times.

While allowing women into all combat units is a step towards women’s equality in male-dominated fields, the United States is years behind other countries in making this decision. The United States has now joined Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania,Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Eritrea, Israel, and North Korea in allowing women to serve in all combat roles. According to NPR, Mr. Carter explained during his announcement that “since the 1970s, women have been able to attend U.S. service academies, and that in the early 1990s women’s military roles were expanded, with each branch allowed to make some exceptions that kept women out of combat.”

Eric Goodson, Social Studies teacher, looks at this decision as “an extremely important step because it allows women into careers that they can choose…[which] all women are owed. While the military and politicians general believe that women’s presence would undermine [defense groups’] effectiveness…if a women can pass the tests that men can pass, why can’t they” also be included?

Mr. Goodson also touches on the point that it is arguable “that women are not biologically able to do certain things [in comparison to men], but we could also argue that men do not have the fine motor skills that women have… but these arguments are also sexist.”

According to the Huffington Post, President Barack Obama remarked that “the Defense Department is taking another historic step forward by opening up the remaining 10 percent of military positions, including combat roles, to women…. This change, like others before it, will again make our military even stronger.” Regardless of the past, qualified women living in the United States will now have the potential to serve and protect their country in all combat roles, which now include serving alongside or in front of men.

Image: Editorial cartoon by Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News.

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