Women in Combat Still a Work in Progress: Obama

Potential male and female Ranger Course students run in formation during the Ranger Training Assessment Course. (Army photo)
Potential male and female Ranger Course students run in formation during the Ranger Training Assessment Course. (Army photo)

President Barack Obama renewed his support Wednesday for opening all jobs in the military to qualified women while suggesting that field commanders might rule out using women for certain combat missions.

Obama's cautious remarks came in response to a question from a female Marine officer who doubted that women could perform battlefield evacuations as well as men.

At a CNN presidential town hall meeting for service members, veterans and military families at Fort Lee, Virginia, Capt. Lauren Serrano said, "A study by the Marine Corps revealed that mixed-gender combat units performed notably worse and that women suffered staggeringly higher rates of injury. Just one of those statistics showed that mixed-gender units took up to 159 percent longer to evacuate a casualty than all-male units."

"As the wife of a Marine who deploys to combat often, that added time can mean the difference between my husband living or dying," Serrano said. "Why were these tangible negative consequences disregarded and how does the integration of women positively enhance the infantry mission and make me and my husband safer?"

Obama assured Serrano that the studies would not be ignored but said, "I think that what we have to do is to take a look at the particular deployments, the particular situations. There are going to be situations in which women are on the front lines. And they're doing a bunch of stuff now. We -- sometimes we can call them combat or not, but the truth of the matter is they're in war theater and they are at great risk."

The commander-in-chief appeared to suggest that infantry field commanders could decide to rule out qualified women for certain missions.

"There are going to be other situations in which the commanders in the field have to make decisions about what's going to be best in order for us to accomplish the mission," he said. "But the one thing that I do know is that as a consequence of women serving in our military and opening up what used to be closed situations to them, we've gained a lot of talent.

"We've gained a lot of incredible soldiers, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen," Obama said, and "I want to make sure that our starting assumption is if you can do the job, you should be able to get the job."

Last March, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the controversial decision to approve final plans from the military service branches and the U.S. Special Operations Command to open all combat jobs to women, and authorized the military to begin integrating female combat soldiers "right away."

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

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