The recognition and the advancement may not come easily. Defense officials said they will need time to review the standards required for all combat positions to determine how best to judge qualified men and women and whether some jobs should continue to be restricted to men.
“We expect to be challenged just like any fire department or police department in any big city” in which standards for duty are contested, said Gen. Robert Cone, commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Even so, Cone said, “Women do not want standards changed for them. If the standard is in fact valid, they want to meet that standard.”
Defense officials said they won’t lower any standards for the purpose of allowing women to participate.
Under current standards, qualifying as an Army combat infantryman requires being able to frequently carry 100 pounds over a distance of 15 feet as part of a two-person team, according to a job description from the service. An elite Green Beret weapons specialist must lift 200 pounds as part of a two-person team and throw one-pound objects as far as 40 meters.
An early, limited test suggested some tough trials ahead. In preparing for the possibility of integrated ground combat, the Marine Corps let two women take an infantry officers course at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia last year. One applicant failed on the first day, and the second had to drop out later because of stress fractures, according to the Defense Department.
“Not everyone is going to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday before signing an order lifting the combat ban, based on a unanimous recommendation from the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Ending the ban will open as many as 237,000 positions to women by January 2016, the date set for final implementation. The military services have been directed to have plans completed by May 15.