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Buffalo, NY (WBEN) An attorney representing four servicewomen challenging the policy of exclusion calls the Pentagon move toward allowing women in all roles - even combat and special forces- a step in the right direction.
Ariela Migdal with the ACLU tells WBEN,
"They've been in combat or have been supervising female troops in combat so they've already gone through it. They're saying we've already been through it, let us be in these jobs officially." Migdal says the hope is the women's paper records will reflect what they've actually done already on the battlefield.
Migdal says the legal challenge is continuing because some branches are not clear in what women will be able to do. "Some of the branches did not say what they would open to women, but after some study would ask for an exception and keep some jobs closed to women, " says Migdal.
Migdal hopes this will create a culture of change to make the military a place where any woman can compete for any job, including leadership.
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"I think it's a great plan, I think it's about time," says CWO2 Renee DeRouche, a Desert Storm vet who has worked extensively with women veterans in the Buffalo area and serves full time in the Army National Guard.
"Anything that is physical, if you train for it, you can do it." says DeRouche, a past commander of VFW Post 12097 in West Seneca, the nation's first post to focus primarily on women veterans.
"Not all men can meet the standards of the Rangers or any of the elite groups like the (Navy) SEALS. Just as well, some women won't meet those standards. As long as they keep the standards the same , they should weed out the ones that can't do it and keep the ones that can," De Rouche says .
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The move, announced Tuesday, follows revelations of a startling number of sexual assaults in the armed forces. Earlier this year, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the sexual assaults might be linked to the longstanding ban on women serving in combat because the disparity between the roles of men and women creates separate classes of personnel — male "warriors" versus the rest of the force.
While the sexual assault problem is more complicated than that, he said, the disparity has created a psychology that lends itself to disrespect for women.
Under the schedules military leaders delivered to Hagel, the Army will develop standards by July 2015 to allow women to train and potentially serve as Rangers, and qualified women could begin training as Navy SEALS by March 2016 if senior leaders agree. Military leaders have suggested bringing senior women from the officer and enlisted ranks into special forces units first to ensure that younger, lower-ranking women have a support system to help them get through the transition.
The Navy intends to open up its Riverine force and begin training women next month, with the goal of assigning women to the units by October. While not part of the special operations forces, the coastal Riverine squadrons do close combat and security operations in small boats. The Navy plans to have studies finished by July 2014 on allowing women to serve as SEALs, and has set October 2015 as the date when women could begin Navy boot camp with the expressed intention of becoming SEALs eventually.
U.S. Special Operations Command is coordinating the matter of what commando jobs could be opened to women, what exceptions might be requested and when the transition would take place.
The proposals leave the door open for continued exclusion of women from some jobs, if research and testing find that women could not be successful in sufficient numbers, but the services would have to defend such decisions to top Pentagon leaders.
Army officials plan to complete gender-neutral standards for the Ranger course by July 2015. Army Rangers are one of the service's special operations units, but many soldiers who go through Ranger training and wear the coveted tab on their shoulders never actually serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. To be considered a true Ranger, soldiers must serve in the regiment.
In January, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey signed an order that wiped away generations of limits on where and how women could fight for their country. At the time, they asked the services to develop plans to set the change in motion.
The decision reflects a reality driven home by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where battle lines were blurred and women were propelled into jobs as medics, military police and intelligence officers that were sometimes attached, but not formally assigned, to battalions. So, even though a woman could not serve officially as a battalion infantryman going out on patrol, she could fly a helicopter supporting the unit or be part of a team supplying medical aid if troops were injured.
Of the more than 6,700 U.S. service members who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 150 have been women.
The order Panetta and Dempsey signed prohibits physical standards from being lowered simply to allow women to qualify for jobs closer to the battlefront. But the services are methodically reviewing and revising the standards for many jobs, including strength and stamina, in order to set minimum requirements for troops to meet regardless of their sex.
The military services are also working to determine the cost of opening certain jobs to women, particularly aboard a variety of Navy ships, including certain submarines, frigates, mine warfare and other smaller warships. Dozens of ships do not have adequate berthing or facilities for women to meet privacy needs, and would require design and construction changes.
Under a 1994 Pentagon policy, women were prohibited from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. A brigade is roughly 3,500 troops split into several battalions of about 800 soldiers each. Historically, brigades were based farther from the front lines, and they often included top command and support staff.
Last year the military opened up about 14,500 combat positions to women, most of them in the Army, by allowing them to serve in many jobs at the battalion level. The January order lifted the last barrier to women serving in combat, but allows the services to argue to keep some jobs closed.
The bulk of the nearly 240,000 jobs currently closed to women are in the Army, including those in infantry, armor, combat engineer and artillery units that are often close to the battlefront. Similar jobs in the Marine Corps are also closed.
Army officials have laid out a rolling schedule of dates in 2015 to develop gender-neutral standards for specific jobs, beginning with July for engineers, followed by field artillery in March and the infantry and armor jobs no later than September.