Tests, Surveys Pending as Services Study Jobs for Women
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 19, 2013 With proxy tests and surveys, consultations and validations, the nation’s military services and U.S. Special Operations Command are preparing to map the path -- and the obstacles -- to opening jobs for women, officials said here yesterday.
“The department's goal is to ensure that the mission is met with the best, most fully qualified, and most capable people, regardless of gender,” the Defense Department’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management said at a Pentagon news conference yesterday.
Juliet Beyler joined representatives from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Socom to outline the services’ respective plans for lifting the combat exclusion for women. The 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, rescinded this year, barred women from jobs performed near combat units or, in many cases, at units smaller than a brigade.
Each service will develop its own gender-neutral task standards, officials explained, and coordinate with Socom as it assesses special operations skills. Beyler noted all assessments are due for completion by September 2015, and combat exemptions will be lifted in January 2016. Any remaining exceptions barring women must be approved by the secretary of defense and Joint Chiefs chairman, she noted.
Officials said yesterday that while many previously closed positions have already opened to women, others will take much more study. They added that variables including strength and stamina, as well as social, behavioral and cultural factors, will weigh more heavily in opening jobs in the infantry, which is famously physically demanding, as well as in units such as the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces, which undertake remote and high-risk missions with small teams.
Army Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, Marine Corps Col. Jon Aytes, Army Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick from Socom, Navy Rear Adm. Tony Kurta and Air Force Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso gave reporters some details of the plans, which will phase in until implementation’s scheduled end in January 2016.
Aytes summed up some of the work involved in setting gender-neutral standards for military jobs, as implementation will require. The Marine Corps has 335 primary military occupational specialties, he noted, with 32 of them currently closed to women.
“To date, we've determined that there are more than 250 physically demanding tasks among those [335 jobs], and what we have done is we've developed five proxy tests to represent these various tasks,” he said.
Aytes added that 800 Marines, 400 men and 400 women, will be tested on those tasks this summer. They include simulating loading tank and artillery rounds, a deadlift, a clean-and-press and a wall climb.
“Then we're going to correlate that data against those Marines' existing physical fitness test and combat fitness test, or PFT and CFT, events,” Aytes explained. “And using that information as collected, we're going to try to build a safe, a very simple screening test that we're going to use to contract our applicants coming into the Marine Corps.”
Other service representatives outlined similar efforts. As Grosso pointed out, the Air Force reassesses job requirements every five years.
“The skills that [an aircraft] maintainer may have needed in the 1970s and the strength is very different than the skills and the strength they might need in 2013 for an F-22,” she noted. “And so what you want to understand is, how much does the toolbox weigh 25 years later?”
Sacolick noted the Socom analysis will encompass “the entirety of the Socom enterprise, inclusive of all assigned units.”
Special operations units already include women in jobs such as civil affairs and psychological operations, he noted, though Army Rangers and Green Berets, and Navy SEALs, exclude women.
“We're looking for smart, qualified operators. … There's a new dynamic,” he said. “I mean, the days of Rambo are over.”
Sacolick said Socom is looking for troops who “can speak and learn a foreign language and understand culture, that can work with indigenous populations and culturally attune manners.” He added that intellect is “the defining characteristic of our operators.”
Those operators will have the chance to express their feelings about incorporating women into their ranks at the team level, Sacolick said.
“I think that's going to be really important,” he said.
“I mean, ultimately, these young men have volunteered multiple times. And we have a lot invested in them. And they've got to embrace it.”
Leaders sometimes underestimate young troops’ capacity to embrace change and diversity, he said. “I just want to provide them an opportunity to voice their concerns in this survey,” he added.
He emphasized that much work remains, as the services and Socom consult with experts, other militaries and their own forces to open more opportunities to women.
“I have got to be the honest broker in this process, and we've got to let it work,” he said.