The Pentagon will ease restrictions on women serving in the military, opening up 14,000 new and potentially more dangerous jobs to female soldiers, the Associated Press reported.
The change, which is scheduled to be announced Thursday, will mostly affect women in the Army and Marine Corps. Though women would continue to be banned from serving directly on the frontlines, they will now be permitted to serve in non-infantry battalion jobs, in positions such as radio operators, intelligence analysts, medics, radar operators and tank mechanics, The Los Angeles Times reported. They will also be permitted to work in closer proximity to combat on the ground.
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A 1994 policy restricted women from being assigned to ground combat units, according to the AP.
Since then, women have been assigned military positions below the brigade level, Slate reported. A brigade is made up 3,500 troops broken down into smaller battalions. This means that while a female soldier could formally be assigned to a brigade, she couldn’t be assigned to a battalion. The military has worked around these rules by "attaching" women to battalions — in other words, they are allowed to do the work, but do not get the credit for being in combat arms, according to Slate.
These new changes to the military are part of a Pentagon study Congress ordered on women in combat, according to the Times.
"We believe that it's very important to explore ways to offer more opportunities to women in the military," Pentagon press secretary George Little said Thursday, according to the AP. "This review has been thorough and extensive," with input from all branches of the military, he said.
Officials who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity because the new rules have not been made public yet emphasized that the restrictions on women serving in infantry jobs will most likely be reexamined again in the near future. However, permitting women into all-male combat units is likely to face opposition within the Army and Marines, the Times reported.
"This is the opening salvo in the debate over assigning women to combat," one US officer told the Times. "That's the last bastion."
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More than 140 women in the US military have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 860 have been wounded, according to Defense Department statistics.14.5 percent of the United States' 1.5 million active-duty military personnel are women, the Times reported.