Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reversed centuries of U.S. military tradition Thursday with the historic announcement that all military occupational specialties would now be open to women.
"They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat," he said, provided that the women can meet the same physical and professional standards as men.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was alone among the service chiefs in opposing the total integration of women into the force, was absent from Carter's announcement at a Pentagon briefing.
As Marine commandant before his promotion to chairman, Dunford had recommended "exceptions" for the Marine Corps in certain military jobs, including infantry.
Carter sought to minimize the disagreement with the nation's top uniformed officer, saying Dunford would be "by my side" in the implementation of the new rules.
The immediate impact of the momentous changes would likely be felt by the three women who recently passed Army Ranger School. They had been barred from applying for service with the 75th Ranger Regiment under existing rules, but Carter said the three would now be eligible.
Carter said he expected all the services to report to him within 30 days on how they will go about putting the changes into effect.
Women in Congress who had served in the military hailed Carter's announcement.
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, a retired Air Force colonel and former A-10 Thunderbolt pilot, said, "Today's historic announcement finally recognizes that our military is strongest when it prioritizes merit and capability, not gender -- and it's about damn time."
However, the chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees withheld their immediate endorsements, saying they would conduct a review of the changes and the proposals for their implementation.
In a joint statement, Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, said, "Congress has an essential Constitutional role to make rules for the government and regulation of our nation's armed forces."
They said their review would include the 1,000-page Marine Integrated Task Force report, which included Dunford's recommendations for exceptions.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com