US army hires first women in history for ground combat roles

The 22 women are the first crop to be taken on after new rules this year which further closed the military gender gap


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The Independent US

The US army has announced the first 22 women who will become infantry and armour officers following new rules this year which further opened up ground combat jobs for women.

They are reportedly near completion of their training and will become second lieutenants within a few weeks, in charge of units of about 40 troops.

While only a small number of women were expected to volunteer for the jobs, the Marine Corps said about 200 women a year would likely sign up to the newly opened ground combat positions.

“Incrementally over time, it’s been one success after another,” Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk, an Army spokesman told USA Today.

Although women worked for the army in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is the first time these divisions will be more gender diverse.

Three years ago the pentagon ordered all armed services to admit women into all jobs by 2016, opening up more than 110,000 positions. Since then military services developed gender-neutral physical tests to screen applicants.

Now, thanks to rules implemented in 2016, divisions like infantry armour and special forces and other very physically demanding jobs are on offer to women for the first time, opening up the last 10 per cent of army roles that were not previously available to women.

13 of the women will enter the armour field while the remaining nine will become infantry. Infantry members wear heavy body armour - packs can weigh more than 100 pounds - and must walk long distances. Ground combat roles can involve living in difficult and austere conditions for long periods of time.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter denied the Marine Corps' request to make an exception for infantry, machine gunner and fire support roles, arguing performance of mixed-gender units did not perform as all-male units. 

But Mr Carter said his rule would “apply without exception” and that standards would not decline as a result of admitting women.

“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” Mr Carter said in December last year. “They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men.”

He also addressed the important issue of women becoming role models for future applicants.

So far 29 women have tried to complete the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course but none have succeeded.

Three women did graduate, however, from the Army’s Ranger School, a physically demanding course for small unit leaders.