The U.S. Army is studying how female soldiers will fit into new field artillery jobs, but there is still no word on how the service plans to bring women into infantry, armor, and other direct ground combat units. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told lawmakers Tuesday that the service is conducting a pilot on the standards female field artillery officers will have to meet in the future.
Last week, the Defense Department announced it will open more than 6,200 new jobs to women in the Army and Marine Corps, but none of those positions include the frontline combat positions that have garnered the most attention since the Pentagon eliminated gender barriers in January.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked Odierno when females were likely to begin serving as infantry officers Tuesday during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Odierno instead brought up the pilot being conducted for female artillery officers and how important it is to "ensure standards are the same for everybody." The service will likely conduct other assessments over the next two years and before integrating female officers into combat arms jobs at the battalion level and below, he said.
Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January eliminated the Pentagon rule that prevented women from participating in certain combat units. He also ordered the services to fully integrate women by 2016.
It's still unclear whether the Army is conducting assessments that look at issues surrounding women in the infantry. Military.com reached out to the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga. -- the command that oversees infantry and armor training -- but officials there would not discuss the issue and referred all questions to Army Public Affairs.
The service plans to focus on female commissioned officers first, followed by non-commissioned officers and then enlisted personnel, Odierno said.
Frontline combat positions in the infantry and Special Forces have created the most controversy because of questions about a woman's strength to meet the physically-demanding standards associated these jobs.
Service leaders are still working on developing plans on how the military could integrate women into positions that typically see the most fighting. These plans could likely include gender-neutral physical standards.
Of the more than 6,200 new positions recently opened to women, none of them require the development of "additional gender-neutral physical standards," Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, wrote in the April 8 letter to lawmakers.
Odierno told lawmakers that be wants to avoid rushing too quickly into any decisions about women in direct combat units to make sure they have ever opportunity to be successful.
"What we don't want to do is rush to failure," he said. "We've got to take advantage of the talent women bring to us."