Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday gave the clearest signal yet that he was preparing to lift restrictions on women in combat jobs and open up all military occupational specialties to those who can meet the standards.
Citing the example of the two female soldiers who recently completed Army Ranger School, Carter said, "When put to the test, not everyone, only a select few, will meet our standards of combat excellence. But no one needs to be barred from their chance to be tested."
Carter made the remarks at the close of a speech to the American Legion on his "Force of the Future" plan to overhaul the military personnel system and forge closer ties with the business community.
In his speech, the defense secretary appeared to agree with advocates of lifting the restrictions who have argued that all military jobs should be open to those who can meet the standards regardless of gender.
By successfully completing the grueling 62-day Ranger school, the two Army officers -- Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver -- had become part of a "broader future trend" in the military, he said.
Carter said he was committed to fairness in opportunity, and told the Legion audience that "you've never shied from advocating for what's fair, insisting on something better, and demanding above all that we do right by the people who've stepped forward to defend this great nation.''
He noted that last month he congratulated Griest and Haver as the first women to earn the right to wear the Ranger Tab, although they cannot now be accepted into the 75th Ranger Regiment under current restrictions.
"They did what Rangers do – 'Lead the Way,'" he said, "but these two women are more than a snapshot of the strength of our current force -- they represent a broader future trend."
At a Pentagon news conference last month, Carter noted that Griest and Haver could not now be accepted into the Ranger Regiment under 1994 regulations barring women from the infantry, armor, artillery and special operations.
Several top commanders, including former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert have indicated that they would support opening up all MOSs to those who can meet the standards – including special operations.
In January 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered all MOSs opened up to women but withheld implementation to give the services time to conduct studies to determine whether they would seek exemptions.
The services are to report back to Carter on whether they will ask for exemptions from the rule to lift restrictions for certain MOSs later this month. Carter has said that he will decide on the new policy by the end of this year.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.