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US Military Opens All Combat Positions to Women

Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Sept. 18, 2012.

Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Sept. 18, 2012.

Women will soon be able to serve in all positions in the United States military -- including combat -- if they meet the demands of the job.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the policy change Thursday at the Pentagon -- the headquarters of the military near Washington, D.C. Carter said the branches of the military -- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard -- must tell him by January how they plan to fulfill his order.

Carter’s plan is not without critics.

Joseph F. Dunford Jr. was the top general in the Marine Corps. While he was Commandant, he pointed to studies showing that military units that include women are not as effective as all-male units.

Dunford is now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the nation’s top military officer -- and will be required to put Carter’s order into effect.

Reporters asked Carter repeatedly if Dunford supported his decision. Carter said “my decision is my decision.” He said he expects the general will put the new policy in place. The United States has a long history of strong civilian control of the military.

After almost three years of study, almost all of the services told Carter that women who meet the standards of a job should be able to be placed in any position. But the Marine Corps asked that women continue to be banned from some positions -- including infantry.

Carter refused. He said “there will be no exceptions.” Now, he noted, qualified women will be able to “drive tanks … and lead infantry units into combat.”

He said he does not believe letting women hold combat jobs will hurt the effectiveness of military units.

“To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half” of the country’s population, he said. He said it is time to “harness the skills and perspectives that women have to offer.”

Women had been able to work in about 90 percent of the military’s jobs. Because of Carter’s decision, they will be able to fill all remaining 220,000 positions.

The military has gradually accepted women in positions that were once held only by men. In 1975, it opened its military academies to women. In 1993, it let women fly fighter jets and serve on combat ships.

And, as Carter noted, women have been forced to engage in combat to defend themselves in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Christopher Jones-Cruise reported this story from Washington. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

unit – n. a single thing, person or group that is a part of something larger

infantry – n. the part of an army that has soldiers who fight on foot

exception – n. a case where a rule does not apply

tank – n. a military vehicle that moves on two large metal belts with wheels inside them and that is covered in heavy armor

harness – v. to use (something) for a particular purpose

perspective – n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)

gradually – adv. moving or changing in small amounts; happening in a slow way over a long period of time

engage in – phrasal verb to do (something)

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