Women may begin to train in some of the most elite units of the U.S. military under plans announced Tuesday, in another step forward following the Pentagon's lift of the longstanding ban on women in combat.
Representatives from the Defense Department, military services and U.S. Special Operations Command came together Tuesday to provide an update on their plans to further place women in positions that were previously closed to them. The plans are the result of a lengthy review and aim, in a measured way, to open thousands of combat jobs to women, including those in special forces.
According to a congressional aide, the Pentagon has informed members of Congress that under schedules military leaders have delivered to Hagel, women may be able to start training as Army Rangers by July 2015 and as Navy SEALs by March 2016.
Such elite units have often been cited by critics and members of the military as areas where women would be incapable of serving, largely based on physical demands. The Pentagon's congressional briefing said service members must meet the same physical and mental requirements in order to qualify for positions that are considered "front-line" -- infantry, armor, commando -- across the services. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has looked over the plans and has mandated that the services move forward with their implementation.
Defense Department spokesman on Personnel and Readiness Nate Christensen confirmed that members of Congress were briefed on the plans but emphasized, "No decision has been definitively made."
Military leaders also cautioned in the Tuesday briefing that the process of implementation must be given time to take hold, but the timelines for integrating women into Army Ranger and Navy SEAL positions weren't addressed.
"Sometimes we underestimate the capacity of our younger troops to embrace change," said U.S. Army Chief of Personnel Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, in response to a question about whether women would be integrated into special ops positions such as the Rangers or SEALs, and opposition to such a move.
As for whether women would be capable of taking on such roles, Bromberg noted that the defining characteristic of special operators is intellect. "The days of Rambo are over," he said.
"I have no doubt there are qualified women who can serve in any role in our military," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told The Huffington Post, "and when all of our best and brightest serve in combat our country is stronger for it.”