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U.S. Military to Open All Combat Roles to Women

U.S. Military to Open All Combat Roles to Women

In a historic decision, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Thursday that the Pentagon will now open all military combat roles to women.

"To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country's talents and skills," Carter said in a news conference. "This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They'll be able to drive tanks, give orders, [and] lead infantry soldiers into combat."

This announcement comes forty years after the Pentagon first allowed women to enroll in military service academies. In 1993, women were given access to fly fighter jets and serve on combat ships at sea, but with the approval of the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule in 1994, women were effectively excluded from being assigned to units that engaged in direct ground combat. The rule was overturned in 2013 when then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that all combat roles must be opened to women by January 1, 2016.

Panetta's 2013 decision allowed for a three-year review among the different branches of the Armed Forces to voice any concerns or request exemptions for the complete incorporation of women into the military. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command all supported the decision to open combat positions to qualified women. Only the Marine Corps requested exemptions, citing research that suggested units that incorporated women were not as effective as all-male units. Carter, however, rebuked these efforts, saying, "There will be no exceptions."

According to The New York Times, a recent study found that there was no significant spike in morale among all-male Marine Corps units in comparison to groups that included both men and women. Additionally, a group of 400 male and female Marines surveyed reported feeling a "strong sense of belonging to the military, even more so when compared to other Marines of the operating forces."

With Carter's announcement, roughly 220,000 military jobs that were once limited to men will now be available to women. All branches of the armed forces have until April 1, 2016, to begin putting plans in place.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images