As questions swirl over whether President-elect Donald Trump will seek to roll back recent social changes in the military, the outgoing defense secretary said the push to open more combat jobs to women "makes sense."
Speaking to reporters traveling with him to military installations around the U.S., Ashton Carter said of the Obama administration's rule change to let more women serve in combat roles, "It makes sense."
The secretary said, "Females are half of our population. We're an all-volunteer force. So we recruit from the population it makes sense for us to recruit people, from as wide a population as possible."
Carter added, "Now they have to be qualified, but it's a benefit to our military to be able to draw from what is a competitive [market] … to have the ability to have access to the best people we can."
Trump is facing calls from some conservatives to undo the women-in-combat provisions, which affects a large portion of the military -- hundreds of thousands of troops -- serving in combat-related military occupational specialties.
"Those policies have to be rolled back," said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposed lifting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to allow gay troops to openly serve in the ranks, according to an article by Andrew Tilghman of Military Times.
"Right now the policy is that women can and will be assigned to ground combat units," she said, according to the report. "That pronouncement can indeed be changed by a future secretary of defense."
It's as yet unclear whether Trump will heed such recommendations and pursue such a policy change.
In an appearance on Sunday on the CBS News program, "60 Minutes," the president-elect didn't discuss the issue of female troops serving in combat roles. But he did talk about social issues when he said the matter of same-sex marriage was concluded.
"It's irrelevant because it was already settled," he told CBS' Lesley Stahl. "It's law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean, it's done. I'm fine with that."
Carter will be traveling to various bases this week, including Twentynine Palms, California; Joint-Base San-Antonio-Lackland, Texas; and Hurlburt Field, Florida, to observe military training and readiness.
After more than a decade and a half of U.S.-led wars in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan, troops must also be ready for a post-counterinsurgency environment and full-spectrum warfare, Carter said.
The military also must be able to recruit the best and brightest, said the secretary, who has introduced a "Force of the Future" initiative to draw talent from Silicon Valley and tech companies as a way to bolster the country's cyber defenses.
"What matters is the qualifications of people who serve in our military … and that's the logic of our all-volunteer force, is that we get to pick, and that's why our people are so terrific," Carter told reporters en route to California. "But to have the very best to pick from, we have to pick from the entire population."
The secretary said the department is working with Trump's transition team "to provide to our policymakers, beginning with our commander-in-chief, the depth of the advice and experience resident in our department both uniform and civilian."
Carter added, "The people who have decades of experiences, round the world, have seen lots of military operations … will be made available to our policymakers."