U.S. women soldiers will be able to drive tanks and fire mortars in the near future as the Pentagon opens combat missions to women starting in the new year.
"There will be no exception," U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said as he made the announcement Thursday at the Pengagon.
He said that America’s all volunteer fighting force cannot afford to ignore half of the population in the 21st century that requires “drawing strength from the broadest possible pool,” including women.
"We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards," Carter said.
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Women have been inching their way towards combat roles since the mid-1970s, when they first became eligible to attend the military service academies and enlist in the U.S. armed forces. Currently women are prohibited only from combat jobs, about 10 percent of military occupations.
Carter said three of America’s armed forces were in favor of allowing women into the military’s most demanding and dangerous jobs. However, the Marine Corps has wanted to make certain exceptions based on studies that showed women reduced the effectiveness of fighting forces.
After a three-year review, Carter said that he viewed the data differently and that he thinks the Marine Corps issues will be addressed as the new rule is implemented.
“The key here is implementation,” Carter said, adding that he is directing the military to do it in a combined manner, with “all services working together.”
He noted that the overarching objective is to improve U.S. fighting forces.
He said that decisions about tasks and jobs throughout the armed forces will be made on ability not gender, that equal opportunity will not necessarily mean equal participation, that physical abilities will be taken into account for certain jobs and that international realities will also have to be considered regarding certain missions.