SecDef: 'There Tend to Be Physical and Other Physiological Differences Between Men and Women'

Susan Jones | March 11, 2016 | 10:22am EST
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on March 10 that he has formally approved the military services' various plans to integrate women into combat and other jobs that were previously closed to them. (AP File Photo)

( - Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on Thursday that he has formally approved plans prepared by the individual military services and U.S. Special Operations Command to integrate women into all combat roles.

Carter required those plans to address "seven guiding principles." Fourth on his list is the physical demands women will face, and here's what he wrote about it on his social media page:

"[O]n average, there tend to be physical and other physiological differences between men and women. Accordingly, all the services have looked closely at ways to mitigate the potential for higher injury rates among women, and they’ve come up with creative methods to address this.

"For example, the Army intends to give all new recruits what they call an occupational physical assessment test, the results of which will help better match the recruits with jobs they either are, or with training could be, physically capable of doing.

"Likewise, the Marine Corps plans to use the extra time provided by their delayed entry program so that women who are interested in enlisting in ground combat arms can better prepare themselves for the physical demands of the job they want to serve in."

Studies conducted by both the Army and Marine Corps found that women participating in ground combat training sustained injuries at higher rates than men, particularly in load-bearing occupations.

Carter said the military will "gain new insights" as more women enter previously closed positions, and all the services "will leverage that information to develop new approaches to reduce the potential for higher injury rates."

'Closer look at our training'

The first of Carter's seven guiding principles is transparent and objective standards, which means that men and women will advance based on ability, not gender. But the standards need updating, he said:

"We found over the last few years that in some cases we were doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them. For example, previously one of the tasks to earn the Army’s Expert Infantry Badge required soldiers to move 12 miles in three hours with a 35-pound rucksack, but it turns out that the rucksack weight was based on a World War II-era airborne study. It was the minimum weight required to prevent the ruck sack from getting tangled in a jumper’s static line, and had nothing to do with the equipment required for paratroopers to fight with once they landed--let alone the modern equipment that infantry soldiers need to carry today.

"This process drove us to take a closer look at our training, too, and going forward, we will be using standards informed by today’s real-world operational requirements, informed by experiences gained over the last decade and a half of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, our military will be even better at finding and training not only the most qualified women, but also the most qualified men, for all military specialties."

(Carter did not say if the rucksack weight will go up or down.)

Carter's fifth guiding principle is "operating abroad," or sending women into combat in places where there is not "full gender integration."

"[N]ot all nations share this perspective," Carter wrote. "Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have long dealt with this reality, notably over the last 15 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and because of this, the military services have many lessons to draw on when it comes to operating in areas where there is cultural resistance to working with women. This is an area where we will always have to be vigilant, and the services are prepared to do so going forward across the force."

'Conduct and culture'

Sixth on the list is "conduct and culture."

"We must address attitudes toward team performance through education and training, including making clear that sexual assault or harassment, hazing, and unprofessional behaviors are never acceptable, and that everyone must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve," Carter wrote.

"The services will be using new educational resources to train everyone up and down the ranks to prepare for the integration of women, from the newest recruits to four-star admirals and generals. While each service is different and will do this in their own way, I know that all of them will continue to hold our people to the highest standards of honor and trust we associate with the profession of arms."

In December 2015, Carter announced that he would open all 213,000 positions, spanning 52 military occupational specialties, to women.

On Thursday, Carter praised each of the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command for putting "a great deal of thought and effort into their plans," and he announced that implementation of those plans will begin by the end of the month.

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