FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Despite some initial challenges, allowing female soldiers to serve in combat jobs that have long been closed to women should ultimately "make the Army stronger," the top general at Fort Stewart said Friday.
Maj. Gen. Jim Rainey, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, discussed the upcoming change during a question-and-answer session with reporters at the southeast Georgia Army post. Along with the rest of the Army, Fort Stewart is preparing to begin integrating women into infantry and armor units possibly before the end of the year.
Rainey noted that the Army already has women serving in battlefield roles as aviators, combat engineers and in field artillery units. He said he expects any resistance from male troops to be short-lived.
"There are women in combat now," Rainey said. "So this isn't like something we've never done and don't know how to do."
As long as the right soldiers are chosen for the right jobs, based on their abilities, he said, "I think it's going to make the Army stronger in the long run."
Rainey has about 15,000 soldiers under his command in the 3rd Infantry, which served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about 21,900 troops total at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield in nearby Savannah. Roughly 15 percent of those soldiers are women.
The Army first plans to assign female officers to now all-male infantry and armor units before admitting enlisted women. The first officers are expected to start training in June. Fort Stewart officials say at the earliest they could begin arriving here before the end of this year.
The Army plans for female enlisted soldiers to start joining ground combat units in mid-2017.
"This isn't going to be the easiest thing we ever did," Rainey said. "I think there will be a period of learning and there will be some friction, like there always is. ... It's new and anything that's new in the Army, you've got to overcome some biases."
The Army is still working on new physical fitness requirements for specific jobs that will require soldiers to meet the same standards regardless of gender or age. Otherwise, the only major challenge will be logistical ones, Rainey said, such as how to set up barracks to allow women to live among mostly male teammates.
"There will be women that will choose to serve (in combat roles) and that will meet the standards, and the ones who do will be fine," Rainey said.
As for any lingering reservations among male soldiers, he said: "The great thing about the Army, especially in combat, all that stuff goes out the window."
This article was written by Russ Bynum from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.