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Deadline Approaches for Services to Submit Women-in-Combat Plans

Female Marine infantry students hike during patrol week near Camp Geiger, N.C., in October 2013. (TYLER L. MAIN/U.S. MARINE CORPS)
Female Marine infantry students hike during patrol week near Camp Geiger, N.C., in October 2013. (TYLER L. MAIN/U.S. MARINE CORPS)

The Navy has already submitted its plan to integrate women into its Special Warfare community to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Military.com has learned. The Marine Corps is in the final stages of preparing its own plan to open infantry units.

All services must comply with a Jan. 4 deadline to present Carter with their plans to open all-male jobs to women. For the Navy, this means allowing female sailors a chance to train to become elite SEALs; for the Marine Corps, it means opening 20 new jobs over the objections of the service, which requested that some fields remain closed.

The Navy submitted to Carter its plan to integrate women into Special Warfare Command jobs before Christmas, a Navy official with knowledge of planning said.

"We submitted it. We met the deadline," the official said. "We will await any amplifying guidance."

The plan was informed by lengthy study of the issue of integration within the Navy and the U.S. Special Operations community.

In coming to the recommendations the Navy made to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Carter ahead of the Defense Secretary's decision to open all military jobs to women, the official said, "how we would implement was definitely part of that process."

The Marine Corps will likely submit its plan to open infantry jobs and positions within Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command after the New Year. Prior to Commandant Gen. Robert Neller's departure for a tour of Marine positions in Europe and the Middle East, he met with key personnel to finalize the plan's details.

Neller met with Brig. Gen. George Smith, director of the Marine Corps Force Innovation Office; Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, head of Marine Corps Training and Education Command; and Assistant Commandant Gen. John "Jay" Paxton to discuss the way forward, a Defense Department official with knowledge of the meetings said. The commandant has also solicited input from other general officers in developing the plan.

The Marine Corps is also awaiting the results of a comprehensive review of physical fitness and body composition standards, said Capt. Philip Kulczewski, a Marine Corps spokesman. The results of this review, which are due summer 2016, will assist the Marines in developing appropriate physical standards for each job.

Ahead of the official integration order, the Marines created gender-neutral physical standards for 29 different jobs to ensure that infantrymen, male or female, can accomplish such objectives as scaling a wall and breaching a door with a battering ram.

"We are currently working in earnest to provide a comprehensive implementation plan to the Secretary of Defense," Kulczewski said. "Once approved by the Secretary of Defense, we will fully implement the plan not later than April 1, 2016.  We will work collaboratively across the services to systematically and fully implement the guidance of the Secretary of Defense."

Less clear is how the Marine Corps will approach the challenge of moving female leaders into key ground combat jobs as all ranks open to women. To date, 29 female officers have attempted the Marines' grueling infantry officers course, but none have passed.

The Marines' previous commandant, Gen. Joseph Dunford, referred to the importance of having Marine officers at the helm of change in an interview last spring.

"The enlisted [training], it's really a first phase of preparing that Marine for their occupational field, so the transformation is just started," said Dunford, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "The expectation is that when you're done at [Marine Corps Base] Quantico, especially for your infantry officers going through infantry officers course, you're actually ready to step in front of your organization and be ready."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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