Work continues to open military occupations to women

8 Apr 2014 | Amaani Lyle

April 7, 2014 - Efforts continue for the services and U.S. Special Operations Command to meet a Jan. 1, 2016, deadline by which all military positions and occupations will be open to women, a senior Pentagon official said at the Officer Women Leadership Symposium here April 5.

Juliet Beyler, officer and enlisted personnel management director in the office of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said interim steps are in place to complete the full implementation of the January 2013 rescission of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.

"Anybody should be able to serve in any position, based on their ability, based on their qualifications, unless there's a valid reason to keep it closed," Beyler said.

The first step, Beyler said, is to review and validate all military occupation standards, a process she said will take time and has a completion deadline of September 2015.

By 2016, Beyler explained, service leaders will need to inform the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the decision either to open all remaining closed positions to women or provide a valid, detailed reason on why a position needs to remain closed.

"The presumption is it will open unless they justify otherwise," she added, "and any exception to keep a position closed come Jan. 1, 2016, has to be personally approved by both the secretary and the chairman."

The original rule on closing occupations to women was contingent on whether the "vast majority" of women could perform the job, Beyler said. In the current effort to open jobs, she added, DOD leaders wanted to ensure that the standards are current, operationally relevant and gender-neutral.

For example, she said, the physical standards for aviation mechanics once were significantly high. "You used to need a lot of upper-body strength to physically manhandle the weaponry onto the undersides of the wings of the aircraft," she explained. "But we don't manhandle bombs any more. We have lifts, ... so do you really need that level of upper-body strength to do that job?"

Going forward, the law now requires that any time the Defense Department opens an occupation to men or women, the standard must be gender-neutral. Therefore, Beyler said, DOD officials conducted numerous studies to ensure the right facilities, leaders and schools provided women a viable career path.

She also noted that opinions on the pace of the transition run the gamut, but policy changes in an organization as massive as DOD cannot "turn on a dime."

"The most important thing is to try and do it right -- make sure we set people up to succeed and maintain our readiness and all-volunteer force," Beyler said.

Since 2012, Beyler said, DOD has identified about 57,000 aviation, special operations and various other positions previously closed to women, with another tranche of 10,000 in the pipeline now, including many at Guard and Reserve units. And women, she added, make up about 14 percent of DOD's 1.4 million active duty members.

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