Military experts say women might continue to be excluded from some of the most physically challenging jobs in the military, such as elite special operations.
Don't expect to see a female Navy SEAL anytime soon, despite the lift on the ban on women in combat. Experts say some of the most physically demanding jobs in the U.S. military might still be an all-male affair for some time to come.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday announced the Pentagon was rescinding the longstanding ban on women serving in combat positions, saying the country's armed forces needed "the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender."
The change is expected to open hundreds of thousands of front-line positions to women. But each branch of the military has until 2016 to figure out how to comply with the new policy and to make a case for whether some positions should remain closed to women.
Maren Leed, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says there will likely be some continued exclusions.
"We can logically expect they will be the ones that are most physically demanding – either in short or long term," Leed told MSN News on Thursday.
That could include special operations forces like the Navy SEALs or the Army’s Delta Force.
Before the policy change, women were prohibited from serving in ground combat units below the level of brigade – a unit of about 3,500 troops. They were also excluded from certain military occupations, such as serving in an infantry.
"What (Panetta) directed the services to do is go back and look at both forms of exclusions. What I expect you will see is most of the unit exclusions, if not all, will be ultimately eliminated," said Leed, a former adviser to the U.S. Army chief of staff. "But you may still see some occupational exclusions based on physical differences between men and women."
About 230,000 military jobs were closed to women before Thursday's announcement. Officials are reviewing 53,000 of the jobs now closed because they’re part of small units. Another 184,000 positions that are closed by specialty, such as infantry, artillery and tanker positions, will be opened to women who can meet gender-neutral standards, according to published reports..
Leed expects that the specialty jobs that are the most physically demanding, such as elite special operations and infantry, will be dealt with last.
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Paul E. Vallely told Newsmax that physical limitations might continue to bar women from serving in special combat forces, including the Navy SEALs.
"The upper-body strength that it takes to carry the weapons and gear — and especially on long hikes they'd have" prevents them from serving these operations effectively, Vallely told Newsmax. "It's been proven that women just don’t develop that upper-body strength.
"That's always been a limiting factor in what the forces have to do. Rucksacks are 75 pounds or 100 pounds alone. This is not my opinion. These are the facts."
Charlie Dunlap Jr., a law professor and associate director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, said Panetta's decision to lift the ban "makes sense so long as there is no lowering of the physical or other standards required for the new positions."
"No doubt the secretary realizes that despite the current restrictions, women found themselves in combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fought with honor and effectiveness. Now is the right time to take the next step," Dunlap, former deputy judge advocate general of the Air Force, said in a statement.
"At the same time, giving the services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women is also the right decision because it is vitally important to ensure that there are no unintended consequences that would erode our military capability, or otherwise increase the risk to those young people we send in harm's way."
It's not immediately known whether the new policy will mean that women would also have to register for the draft. Politico reported there might not be clarity about that for several months.
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