December 04, 2015

CNAS Press Note: Women in Combat

By Katherine Kidder

Washington, December 4 – Following Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s announcement that all combat jobs will be open to women without exception, CNAS Military, Veterans, and Society Program Bacevich Fellow Katherine Kidder has written a new Press Note, “Women in Combat.”
The full press note is below:
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s announcement that all combat jobs will be open to women without exception within 30 days is groundbreaking for the future of the United States military. This policy pronouncement specifically targets the ground forces (the Army and Marine Corps), particularly the infantry, where women were previously prohibited from serving. The pronouncement follows a series of highly-visible events, to include the graduation of three women from the Army’s elite Ranger School this summer, and the release of the Marine Corps’ Ground Combat Element Integration Task Force (GCEITF) study from earlier this year.
Of the services, only the Marine Corps requested exception on women in the infantry, which Secretary Carter overruled on the grounds that “we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision that applies to the entire force.”  The Marine Corps request for exception was based on findings from the GCEITF study, which found that “all-male units overwhelmingly outperformed integrated units in physical tasks.” However, the report also found that integrated units “excelled at complex decision-making.”
The Secretary emphasized the need to uphold occupational standards, regardless of gender. “As long as they qualify and meet the standards, they will be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before … and even more importantly, our military will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.” The new policy moves beyond issues of gender equality to enable better talent management and workforce optimization within the services, driving a competitive environment where the most qualified individuals are able to compete, regardless of gender. The policy change reflects broader de facto adaptations among the ground forces in particular during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where over 320,000 women deployed to combat zones, comprising over 12 percent of service members deployed against the Global War on Terror.
The services must provide their updated implementation plans for integrating women into previously closed positions within the next 30 days. The ground forces can look to historical precedents and processes set by the Air Force and Navy, who opened many combat positions to women in the early 1990s.
Kidder is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at or 202-457-9409.


  • Katherine Kidder