Will Trump reverse directive on women in combat?

The Pentagon lifted its ban on women serving in combat in 2013

Will Trump reverse directive on women in combat?

In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Julia Bergman
The Day

At a campaign event last month in Herndon, Va., retired Army Col. Don Bartholomew asked then-Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump what he would do "about the social engineering and political correctness that has been imposed upon our military."

"Well, we're going to get away from political correctness," Trump, now the president-elect, responded to applause. "And we're going to have to do that."

Before asking his question, Bartholomew referenced major policy changes implemented under the administration of President Barack Obama that allow women to serve in combat and permit transgender individuals to serve openly in the military.

Trump said he would "leave many of the decisions of some of the things you mentioned to the generals, the admirals, the people on top. ... You get your top enlisted people in that, and you have some discussions with some of these top enlisted people who know it better than probably anybody."

"But we'd get our military people to come back and make recommendations to me and I will follow those recommendations," Trump continued. "I will follow them very strongly."

Trump has not explicitly said that he would reverse either of the policies. Requests for comment directed to staff for Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence were not immediately returned on Monday. Trump is still filling cabinet positions and has yet to appoint a secretary of defense.

The Republican platform, approved by voice vote at the party's convention in Ohio in July, expresses "support for both the advancement of women in the military and their exemption from direct ground combat units and infantry battalions."

"We call for an objective review of the impact on readiness of the current Administration's ideology based personnel policies, and will correct problems with appropriate administrative, legal, or legislative action," the platform says in part.

In 2013 the Pentagon lifted its ban on women serving in combat. And in early December 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the remaining 10 percent of positions in the military — about 220,000 — open to women.

"This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before," Carter said then.

The Marine Corps was the only service to seek an exemption, asking that women be excluded from infantry, machine gunner, fire support reconnaissance and other jobs.

In September 2015, the Marines reported the findings of their study that showed all-male units outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus criticized the study, saying the Marines had used flawed methodology.

In July of this year, the Pentagon lifted its ban preventing transgender troops from serving openly in the military and laid out a plan by which service members can transition to another gender.

Trump could chose to reverse the policies or not put pressure on the services to implement them.

"I think people are scrambling to absorb a lot of his campaign comments and align it to the fact that he's now going to be governing," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said by phone while waiting for a flight to Washington D.C., where members of Congress are expected to make their first votes of the lame duck session.

This fall, Courtney spent a night on the USS Minnesota, one of the first nuclear-powered attack submarines to which female officers were assigned.

It would be a "colossal mistake to undo a lot of good work that was done to strengthen the military by getting qualified talented people in places they can contribute," Courtney said, noting the Minnesota's integrated crew operated with "total respect and coordination that did not show any hint of a problem."

At the end of the day, Courtney said, the real test should be whether individuals are qualified to do the job.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who is on the board of the U.S. Military Academy, said first reports suggest that the branches and the academies are adapting well to the directive allowing women to serve in combat roles.

"West Point is taking this new role for women very seriously," Murphy said. "There's been good initial interest from women cadets with respect to potential combat duties. We'll see what Trump does. I think it would be a really damaging signal to women in the military (if he reverses it)."

Copyright 2016 The Day

McClatchy-Tribune News Service