Military Leaders: ‘We’re Seeing a Lot of Interest’ from Women Looking to Join Combat Units

By Melanie Arter | October 25, 2016 | 9:46am EDT
Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, center, and Capt. Kristen Griest, right, were the first female soldiers to graduate from Ranger School. Here, they pose with other West Point grads after a graduation ceremony in August. (AP Photo)

( – During a panel discussion Monday at the Center for a New American Security, top military leaders said they are seeing “a lot of interest” from women who want to join combat units.

“The Army strategy was to try to build the leadership cadre before really trying to move out training on a larger scale, and we knew it would take some time. All these things take a little time,” Army Secretary Eric Fanning said. “People need to see … that we are sticking with it, but we’ve seen a lot of interest.


“We have women leaving West Point, branching into combat arms, but we knew it was going to be slow at first. All the numbers, all the data that we had told us that it was gonna start slowly, but we think it’s moving at the pace … we anticipated it would,” he said.

“We’re also seeing a lot of interest, but very frankly, I think that may be the wrong question,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

“The notion was to set standards, make sure the standards had something to do with the job, and then things like gender, who you love, color of skin become irrelevant - that it’s opening up. It’s saying, if you meet the standards, you get the job, period,” Mabus said.

“It’s not forcing people out because simply gender or color or sexual orientation or something like that, and from that point of view, I think that going forward it’s been a big success, and you’re gonna have those standards,” he said.

“Nobody is suggesting lowering the standards, but … once you know what the job entails, then gender, sexual orientation, whatever, shouldn’t matter,” Mabus said.

When asked whether he was seeing women applying to be part of the special operations force or the Navy Seals, Mabus said, “I think you will see that.”

“The cycle is such that we haven’t seen it yet, but that’s not a surprise. It’s a fairly long cycle, and I will say this about the Seals. They’ve had the same standards for years - 80 percent of men don’t make it. The Seals haven’t been discombobulated at all about opening it up, because the notion is, you meet the standards, you go through the same things we go through, we don’t care,” he said.

In March, the Marine Corps estimated 200 women a year would move into ground combat roles, amounting to two percent of the Marines in those occupations, according to the Associated Press. The Army said it planned to first assign female officers to jobs in the infantry and armor units and then gradually bring in female enlisted soldiers. The first female officers in those units were projected to graduate in October.

“Unlike the Army and Marine Corps, the Air Force said it will not assign women in groups to units, and will instead follow routine assignment procedures,” the AP reported.

MRC Store