By Drew Brooks
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of Army positions that previously were available only to men are scheduled to be opened to women in April.
Army officials announced Thursday that 33,000 positions in 132 Army jobs would be opened as part of the Army's Soldier 2020 initiative, which is meant to ensure the best qualified soldiers are available for each job.
Most of those jobs were closed to women in units below the brigade-level.
The new open positions include civil affairs and psychological operations as well as combat engineers, explosive ordnance disposal specialists and chaplains. They do not include those positions within special operations units. A list of jobs is available at fayobserver.com.
The announcement came a year after then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the end of the direct ground combat exclusion policy, which kept female service members from serving in positions in units below the brigade level with the primary mission of direct ground combat.
Each of the services had been given until 2016 to fully integrate women into the new rules.
Even before last year's decision by the Pentagon, Army leaders said they were re-examining the standards for military jobs, or Military Occupational Specialties (MOS).
In a briefing at the Pentagon, Department of Defense Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the opening of positions to women, when coupled with other initiatives, was part of "an honest effort to make sure that Americans of all stripes and sizes are able to serve in the United States military.
"(Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel) believes that the — that the opportunity to serve your country in uniform should be as open to as many Americans as possible, obviously, within certain standards, of course," Kirby said. "And he's committed, as was Secretary Panetta before him, to removing as many barriers to that service as possible and to make the military service a vocation that one wants to pursue and can pursue for a career."
With Thursday's announcement, approximately 55,000 career positions will have been opened to female soldiers since May 2012, according to U.S. Army Forces Command.
A spokesman for the Fort Bragg-based command said they continue to work closely with Army personnel officials and other Army commands on what they called an "important initiative for our soldiers."
"We are dedicated to maintaining ready and responsive forces, capitalizing upon every opportunity to enhance our war-fighting capabilities to combatant commanders, and promoting the successful contributions of each soldier," said Forces Command spokesman Paul Boyce. "As we move forward shaping the future force, we will continue fostering trust and respect as our talented soldiers achieve their full potential within the Army's many career paths."
Army officials said the decision will help better prepare the force.
"Our endeavor to re-validate performance standards is all about increasing total force capability and preparing the force for future mission requirements," said Col. Linda Sheimo, chief of the Command Programs and Policy Division at the Directorate of Military Personnel Management, Army G-1.
"Opening these positions ensures the Army is properly managing the talent of all our service members, balancing readiness and the needs of a smaller force, and positioning all soldiers for success with viable career paths," she said.
The 33,000 positions are spread across 132 specialties, officials said. The delay to April is meant to satisfy a requirement to notify Congress.
"Though DoD has submitted the memorandum for these open positions, no women will be assigned until the congressional notification period is met," Sheimo said.
While women were long officially barred from combat, many have seen fighting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Still, the issue has been contentious, with some veterans opposing the move to bring women into combat roles and some female soldiers filing lawsuits seeking to overturn past bans.
The National Women's Law Center applauded Thursday's announcement, saying the decision gave thousands of women increased opportunities. The organization said it was time for other services to follow the Army's lead.
"The Army has passed a critical milestone on the road to full integration of women into all military jobs, positions and units," the center said in a release. "Now it's time for the Marine Corps to pick up the pace and immediately provide female Marines the same opportunities. As the Army has shown, there's no reason for the Marine Corps to continue to prevent women who are already fully qualified for their jobs from serving in all military positions and units."
Copyright 2014 The Fayetteville Observer