With the specter of Islamic State terrorism upon us, now might not seem the best moment to change up the operations of the U.S. military. But change, especially of the historic variety, rarely comes at a perfect time.
So it is with the Defense Department’s decision to – finally – open all combat jobs to women.
Army Rangers. Green Berets. Navy SEALs. The overtly testosterone-driven Marine Corps infantry. As long as women can meet the same standards as men, with no shortcuts and no quotas, they will be eligible to drive tanks and lead soldiers into combat the way men have for generations.
“There will be no exceptions,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last Thursday.
It’s a decision that’s sure to make some Americans uncomfortable. No one wants to think about young mothers on the front lines of a war being taken hostage, raped or even beheaded.
Still, this is a decision that, in many ways, is long overdue. The reality is that women have been fighting – and dying – alongside men for years.
As far back as the 1990s, Congress authorized women to fly in combat missions. More recently, women served bravely in the murky fighting zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many experienced combat, but they weren’t given credit for it because of arcane policies that forbid women from officially holding positions in infantry, reconnaissance and special forces units. Their military careers have unfairly suffered for it.
No one wants to think about young mothers on the front lines of a war being taken hostage, raped or even beheaded. Still, this is a decision that, in many ways, is long overdue.
Still, integration isn’t likely to be smooth, especially in the Marines. The branch had asked for exceptions, citing a study that found mixed-gender units are less effective in combat and more likely to suffer casualties. This is something that warrants further examination by Congress in its review of Carter’s decision.
Then there’s the matter of the draft. Right now, men must register for selective service when they turn 18. Women do not, the rationale being women aren’t eligible for combat jobs. Obviously, that has changed.
This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Pasadena weighed this issue, hearing arguments in a 2013 lawsuit filed by the National Coalition For Men. The plaintiffs contend the male-only draft is discriminatory. The court adjourned without a ruling. Still, the issue is unlikely to go away. The Defense Department hasn’t said much yet but will soon.
Ultimately, making our military more inclusive won’t be easy. There may be some unintended consequences. But, ultimately, our country will be better off for it.