Women Can Now Serve In All U.S. Military Combat Roles, With ‘No Exceptions’

The historic decision opens up thousands of new roles for women in the military.

In an historic move that’s one step closer to shattering the so-called “brass ceiling,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has announced that all combat roles will now be open to women.

During a Pentagon press conference on Thursday (Dec. 3), Carter said “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,” he said. “They'll be able to drive tanks, give orders, lead infantry soldiers into combat.”

The landmark decision is nearly three years in the making. In January 2013, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the services to lift the ban on women serving frontline combat jobs. They were given until Jan. 1, 2016 to implement the changes or ask for special exemptions.

Carter said that top officials in the Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command recommended that all jobs be opened to women. The Marine Corps was the only service that objected, citing a study that found all-male infantry units performed better than mixed-gender infantry units.

But Carter has overruled those objections, saying the U.S. military is “a meritocracy,” meaning the most qualified soldier should get the job, regardless of sex or gender.

"Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best America has to offer," he said. "This includes women.”

In August, two women made history by graduating from the grueling Army Ranger School for the first time. With Carter’s announcement, they will now be able to apply for the combat roles they qualified for when they graduated. Furthermore, the decision opens up 10 percent of military jobs that were previously closed to women, and paves the way for them to serve in special operations fields like Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces.

All divisions of the military have until Jan. 1 to submit plans to open combat jobs, and until April 1 to begin implementing the new policy.

Carter acknowledged that the changes “won’t happen overnight,” and that there are still “challenges to overcome,” but it’s a groundbreaking move nonetheless.

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