Carter sounds nearly ready to open combat jobs to women

Women in the Military - History of Women in Combat


ROME (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter sounded like he's nearly made up his mind about opening all combat jobs to women, as he told U.S. troops in Sicily on Tuesday that limiting his search for qualified military candidates to just half the population would be "crazy."

Meanwhile, in memo obtained by The Associated Press, Carter gave the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until the end of October to forward his review of the services' recommendations on which jobs — if any — should remain closed to women. The chairman, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was commandant of the Marine Corps until recently and was the only service chief to recommend that some front-line combat jobs stay male-only, according to several U.S. officials.

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Speaking to a crowd of troops that included a large number of Marines, Carter said he hasn't decided on the recommendations sent to his office and to Dunford. He pledged to thoroughly review the recommendations, particularly those of the Marine Corps, but said that generally he believes that any qualified candidate should be allowed to compete for jobs.

"You have to recruit from the American population. Half the American population is female," Carter told the troops at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, in response to a question from a Marine. "So I'd be crazy not to be, so to speak, fishing in that pond for qualified service members."

For that reason, he said the military should recruit women into as many specialties as possible.

See photos of women in the U.S. military:

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Carter sounds nearly ready to open combat jobs to women
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FORT BENNING, GA - JUNE 23: U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest (R) participates in an obstacle course as part the training at the U.S. Army Ranger School June 23, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School. (Photo by Scott Brooks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine Recruit Haley Evans from St Louis, Missouri stands in formation during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 26: Female Marine recruits stand in line before getting lunch in the chow hall during boot camp on February 26, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 25: Marine recruit Angela Nowak of Midland, Michigan fires on the rifle range during boot camp February 25, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: A drill instructor shouts instructions at her Marine recruits during training in boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits respond to their drill instructor as they are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits stand in formation during pugil stick training in boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Lauren Hillyer of Burlington, Iowa struggles to climb an obstacle on the Confidence Course during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Drill Instructor SSgt. Jennifer Garza disciplines her Marine recruits with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Samantha Wolosin of West Long Branch, New Jersey practices martial arts during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Bibria Pagen Velazquez of Ponce, Puerto Rico practices martial arts during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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In the memo to all the service secretaries and chiefs, Carter said that he is "fully committed to removing unnecessary barriers to service" in the military, and he asked Dunford to review all the reports and send his final recommendation to Carter by Oct. 31.

But Carter also said that he wants to hear from everyone before he decides.

"I am less interested in who is making a particular recommendation and more interested in the reasoning behind it," he said. "My ultimate decision regarding any exception to policy will be based on the analytic underpinnings and the data supporting them."

According to officials familiar with the process, Dunford submitted a report about five-inches thick outlining why he believes women should not be allowed to compete for certain Marine infantry and front-line jobs.

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Navy Secretary Ray Mabus forwarded Dunford's recommendation but also included his own conclusion that the Navy would open all jobs to women, and that he did not agree with Dunford's conclusion. The Marine Corps is a separate service within the Navy.

The Air Force and Army also did not seek to keep any jobs closed to women — including Army infantry. And, officials said that U.S. Special Operations Command determined that it will rely on the military services to send qualified candidates to compete for the jobs, which can include the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces. The elite commando units decided that while there are concerns about women serving in the nation's most grueling military posts, they would leave it up to the services to decide who could compete.

See the first women to graduate Army Ranger school:

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Carter sounds nearly ready to open combat jobs to women

Then U.S. Army First Lieutenant Kirsten Griest (C) and fellow soldiers participate in combatives training during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Georgia, in this handout photograph taken on April 20, 2015 and obtained on August 20, 2015. When Griest and another woman completed the daunting U.S. Army Ranger school this week they helped end questions about whether women can serve as combat leaders, as the Pentagon is poised to open new roles, including elite Navy SEALs, to women in coming months. The feat by Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver followed a re-evaluation of the role of women after their frontline involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the end of a rule barring them from combat roles in 2013.

(REUTERS/Spc. Nikayla Shodeen/U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters)

Capt. Kristen Griest salutes during the graduation ceremony of the United States Army's Ranger School on August 21, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia . Capt. Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver are the first women ever to successfully complete the U.S. Army's Ranger School.

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

U.S. Army Soldiers take part in the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Georgia, April 21, 2015. When two women completed the daunting U.S. Army Ranger school this week they helped end questions about whether women can serve as combat leaders, as the Pentagon is poised to open new roles, including elite Navy SEALs, to women in coming months. Army Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver on Tuesday completed a 62-day course including parachute jumps, helicopter assaults, swamp survival and small unit leadership that earned them a Ranger badge. Picture taken April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/U.S. Army/Sgt. Paul Sale/Handout)

U.S. Army Soldiers 1st Lt. Shaye Haver (R) takes part in mountaineering training during the at the U.S. Army Ranger School on Mount Yonah July 14, 2015 in Cleveland, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Ebony Banks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Connecticut (L) and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas chat as they wait to receive their ranger tabs at Ranger school graduation at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia August 21, 2015. The two pioneering women made history on Friday as they became the first females to graduate from the Army's elite and grueling 62-day Ranger school, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Though Haver and Griest are still not eligible to take part in front-line combat, according to reports, a decision on whether to change that policy could come in the fall.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest (R) participates in an obstacle course as part the training at the U.S. Army Ranger School June 28, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Photo by Scott Brooks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Connecticut (L) and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas wave to family and friends as they wait to receive their ranger tabs at Ranger school graduation at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia August 21, 2015. The two pioneering women made history on Friday as they became the first females to graduate from the Army's elite and grueling 62-day Ranger school, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Though Haver and Griest are still not eligible to take part in front-line combat, according to reports, a decision on whether to change that policy could come in the fall.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

Captain Kristen Griest (L) participates in training at the U.S. Army Ranger School on Ft. Benning Georgia, June 23, 2015. When two women completed the daunting U.S. Army Ranger school this week they helped end questions about whether women can serve as combat leaders, as the Pentagon is poised to open new roles, including elite Navy SEALs, to women in coming months. Army Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver on Tuesday completed a 62-day course including parachute jumps, helicopter assaults, swamp survival and small unit leadership that earned them a Ranger badge. Picture taken June 23, 2015.

(REUTERS/U.S. Army/Spc. Eric Hurtado/Handout)

First Lt. Shaye Haver (center) and Capt. Kristen Griest (center right) are surrounded by a group of female friends and supporters after receiving their Ranger tab and graduating from the United States Army's Ranger School during a ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia on August 21, 2015. Griest and Haver are the first females to graduate from the Army's intensive Ranger School.

(Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Maj. Lisa Jaster holds her daughter Victoria, 3, and her son Zachary, 7, following Ranger School graduation ceremonies on October 16, 2015, at Victory Pond in Columbus, Ga. Jaster, who is the third woman to earn the Ranger Tab, entered Ranger training with Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, who were the first two women to graduate from Ranger School during ceremonies on August 21.

(Robin Trimarchi/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/TNS via Getty Images)

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver (L) takes part in mountaineering training during the at the U.S. Army Ranger School on Mount Yonah July 14, 2015 in Cleveland, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Photo by Ebony Banks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

U.S. Army U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest (2nd L) takes part in mountaineering training during the at the U.S. Army Ranger School on Mount Yonah July 14, 2015 in Cleveland, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Photo by Yvette Zabala-Garriga/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest (R) participates in an obstacle course as part the training at the U.S. Army Ranger School June 23, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Photo by Scott Brooks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

The 96 graduating soldiers of the United States Army's Ranger School sit together during the graduation ceremony of the United States Army's Ranger School on August 21, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia . Capt. Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver are the first women ever to successfully complete the U.S. Army's Ranger School.

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver (R) participates in an obstacle course as part the training at the U.S. Army Ranger School June 28, 2015 at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Photo by Scott Brooks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

U.S. Army Soldiers 1st Lt. Shaye Haver (R) takes part in mountaineering training during the at the U.S. Army Ranger School on Mount Yonah July 14, 2015 in Cleveland, Georgia. U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.

(Photo by Ebony Banks/U.S. Army via Getty Images)

Soldier climbs the Prusik Tower during the 2004 Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., April 24, 2004

(Photo by Russ Bryant/WireImage)

US Army Rangers demonstrate their patrolling at the Ranger Training Bridgade at the US Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia 20 December 2002. The Ranger's primary mission is to engage in the close combat direct fire battle.

(STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. Army Ranger unit goes through its paces during a demonstration of the elite force November 9, 2001 before a graduation ceremony at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Rangers have been used in the military actions in Afghanistan.

(Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

A U.S. Army Ranger unit goes through its paces during a demonstration of the elite force November 9, 2001 before a graduation ceremony at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. Rangers have been used in the military actions in Afghanistan.

(Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

A U.S. Army Ranger rappels down a tower during a demonstration of the elite force November 9, 2001 before a graduation ceremony at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia.

(Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

1st Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas gets a hug after Ranger school graduation at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia August 21, 2015. The two pioneering women made history on Friday as they became the first females to graduate from the Army's elite and grueling 62-day Ranger school, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Though Haver and Griest are still not eligible to take part in front-line combat, according to reports, a decision on whether to change that policy could come in the fall.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

1st Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas walks to Ranger school graduation at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia August 21, 2015. The two pioneering women made history on Friday as they became the first females to graduate from the Army's elite and grueling 62-day Ranger school, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Though Haver and Griest are still not eligible to take part in front-line combat, according to reports, a decision on whether to change that policy could come in the fall.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Connecticut (L) and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas (C) look towards the families at Ranger school graduation at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia August 21, 2015. Griest and Haver are the first two women U.S. Army Rangers to complete the school but cannot serve due to their gender.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

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The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly the private reports.

The contentious issue — including the disagreement between the Navy and Marine Corps — has played out publicly. The Marines released part of their review's conclusions and Mabus has been vocal in his criticism of the Marine decision. Carter's latest memo tries to limit those tensions, warning the services that any further public discussion of the process would not be "helpful or prudent."

The Marine Corps said it did extensive research, including comparisons of all-male and mixed gender units. The units went through a lengthy testing program where they were evaluated on a variety of combat tasks.

They concluded that mixed-gender units are not as capable as all-male units, and that women often couldn't carry as much weight or shoot as well as the men. Allowing women to compete for ground combat jobs, they determined, would make the Marine Corps a less-efficient fighting machine.

Navy Rear Adm. Brian Losey, commander of the Navy's special warfare units, had many of the some concerns, but reached a different conclusion. In a memo, he said putting women in the commando jobs is not expected to increase the units' ability to fight in combat and could take focus away from readiness. But he concluded that allowing all qualified candidates to test themselves against the standards was the right thing to do.

Commanders have stressed that they will not reduce or change the standards for any of the military jobs.

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