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Air Force Leaders Meet as Pressure Builds to Open More Jobs to Women

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provides an update with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III on current Air Force operations during a press briefing in the Pentagon, Aug. 24, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provides an update with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III on current Air Force operations during a press briefing in the Pentagon, Aug. 24, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Airmen will be looking for signals next week from the top civilian and uniformed leaders on where the Air Force is headed as pressure mounts to lift the last remaining job restrictions on women.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James will be first up Monday with an address on "Re-Inventing the Aerospace Nation" at the Air Force Association's annual Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition at National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh will follow on Tuesday with an "Air Force Update" to highlight plans for the service in moving forward on weapons and personnel.

Both James and Welsh will have to make decisions before the end of the month on whether to open up all military occupational specialties to women or recommend to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that the service should "exempt" certain positions.

At a Pentagon briefing last month, James indicated that she was leaning towards lifting the restrictions for women who can meet the exacting standards for any given MOS.

"We currently have seven career specialties that are still closed to women," she said at the time. "We, of course, are the most open at the moment of all the services, having the majority of our jobs open, but there are still seven that are not open, and they relate to the special operations world for the most part."

The jobs include pararescue and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers working forward to call in close air support.

"We have been working on establishing gender-neutral and operationally and occupationally relevant standards, and once we have them in place, it certainly would be my anticipation that we would be in a position to open up these jobs to women in the future," James said.

However, the secretary said that both she and Welsh were awaiting final reports from the field on the testing before making their recommendations to Carter before the end of September.

The pressure to lift the restrictions has been building since two Army women last month passed the demanding Ranger School course.

Earlier this month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the Navy Times newspaper that he had the authority to rule on any exceptions from both the Navy and the Marine Corps, and he saw no reason to ask for exceptions.

"That's still my call, and I've been very public," Mabus said. "I do not see a reason for an exemption."

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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