Hagel: Why Shouldn't Women Have 'Same Opportunities' as Men to Serve in Combat?

By Susan Jones | June 21, 2013 | 5:34 AM EDT

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to civilian and military personnel from the US Strategic Command, the 55th Wing and the Air Force Weather Agency at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

(CNSNews.com) - Why shouldn't women in the military have the same opportunities as men do? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked on Thursday. It's not a matter of lowering standards, he said.

In remarks at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Hagel was asked how he feels about putting females on the front lines of combat -- "based on our social background of men being the protectors of women," as the questioner put it.

Hagel's reponse:

First, I think everyone understands, and this is the right thing, we can't lower standards. We have high standards. We should have high standards. Our country has high standards. Our military has always had higher standards. And we need to keep those standards. And so it's not a matter of lowering standards to assist women to get into combat positions -- women don't want that, you wouldn't want that -- and I think to find the right balance of implementation to allow women to move into these new opportunities and new positions if they want, if they're qualified, if they can do the job.

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And why shouldn't they have those opportunities? Why shouldn't they have the same opportunities as men do on these?

And so that's essentially my point of view on this. We're working toward that. And I'm proud, again I say, that this institution is doing that. And again I go back to the bigger point of how we integrated our services under Harry Truman. Colin Powell gives some beautiful speeches about that. And you can go run all through these issues.

One blight -- I've referred to it as a scourge -- that we must fix and we will fix is sexual assault. That is a very, very dark mark on all the success of this institution. And I say that because I think we have to connect that also with the larger dimension of what our challenges are.

We will fix it. There's no higher priority, I've said, as secretary of defense than to make everybody accountable all the time up and down the line. And it will get fixed.

Thank you.