The Army is addressing the specifics of the plan to allow female soldiers to join infantry battalions and – associated with that move – to make the prestigious Ranger School co-ed, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Wednesday.
The Army's top leader said he wants to give women every opportunity to succeed in infantry battalions since the military reversed the policy barring them from infantry duty earlier this year.
Odierno noted that nine out of ten senior infantry officers have graduated from Ranger school and wear the Ranger tab on their uniforms. Not allowing women to earn their own tab could hinder their infantry careers, Odierno said.
"As we look at our senior infantry officers, 90 percent of our senior officers are Ranger qualified. If we determine that we're going to allow women to go into infantry and be successful, they're probably at some time going to have to go to Ranger School," Odierno said. "We have not made that decision but it's a factor that I've asked them to take a look at."
Graduating from Ranger school would not mean women would start serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Only a select group of soldiers who complete Ranger School earn an assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment, the only Ranger regiment in the Army.
In February, the Pentagon reversed a 1994 combat exclusion policy that restricted women from ground combat units below the brigade level. The reversal will open up more than 14,000 new positions to female officers and non-commissioned officers in mostly the Army and Marine Corps.
Odierno has ordered Gen. Robert Cone, head of U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, and Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the head of U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, to study a host of issues, including Ranger School, regarding the inclusion of women in infantry battalions.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the Army to issue recommendations on the policy change by November. Odierno said he expects Cone and Brown to deliver their recommendations this summer.
"We have to continue to look [and ask]: Do we open up infantry and armor level [military occupations specialties] to females, and that's the next step," Odierno said.
The Army has started introducing women into jobs at nine infantry brigades as a test before opening up those jobs to women across the Army. Women will not be allowed to serve in all infantry positions.
However, Army officials have tested opening up infantry jobs in personnel, logistics, signal corps, medical, chaplaincy and intelligence previously closed to women. Women could also serve as tank mechanics and artillery and rocket launcher crew members.
Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that he has no doubt women will succeed in their roles in infantry. He said he saw it firsthand in Iraq as the commander of U.S. forces. The Army has temporarily attached women to infantry battalions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. "From my experience in Iraq, and what I've seen in Afghanistan, we will move forward with a more permanent solution," Odierno said.
Introducing women to infantry roles is not only occurring in the Army. The Marine Corps is undergoing the same policy change and will invite its first group of women to the Marine Corps Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, Va., this year.
Starting this month, the Marine Corps will consider women for 400 positions in amphibious assault, artillery, combat assault, combat engineer, low-altitude air defense, and tank battalions.
"We believe that it's very important to explore ways to offer more opportunities to women in the military," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in February.
Odierno said the Army has a responsibility to allow women to be competitive in their branch of service if the Pentagon decides to allow women serve in infantry battalions. Completing Ranger School keeps them competitive.
"If we decide sometime to put females in infantry we have to make sure they have the qualifications to be competitive in that branch. We have to look at all of that. What I have asked them to do is we have to take a holistic view of this," Odierno said.