New York Times
June 19, 2013
WASHINGTON — “The days of Rambo are over,” the two-star general in charge of personnel policy for Special Operations Command said on Tuesday in explaining the changes in military culture that led to opening front-line combat positions to women.
The officer, Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, director of force management for Special Operations Command, which trains elite Rangers, Green Berets and SEAL units, said the military today required as much intellectual power as firepower.
“We’re looking for young men that can speak and learn a foreign language and understand culture, who can work with indigenous populations,” he said at a Pentagon briefing about moving women into combat jobs. “When people fail in the Special Forces qualification course, predominantly they fail because they’re not doing their homework.”
He said that female troops already deploy effectively in combat zones as members of Special Operations cultural support teams carrying out counterinsurgency missions at the village level. “I was encouraged by just the physical performance of some of the young girls that aspire to go into the cultural support teams,” General Sacolick said. “They very well may provide a foundation for ultimate integration.”
Even so, as the individual armed services unveiled their plans on Tuesday for carrying out the order to integrate women into hazardous and demanding combat positions, General Sacolick and others said that it might be as difficult for women to fit into male-dominated combat units as to meet physical requirements likes loading heavy tank shells.
As proof of that concern, Special Operations Command will survey its personnel for their views about integrating women into teams that operate in distant and difficult environments. It is an acknowledgment that commando units present the greatest challenge to integrating women into more combat positions.
“The concern is privacy issues and health and welfare of female operators in an austere environment,” General Sacolick said. Even so, he said that no Special Operations unit is off-limits for consideration as the military assesses dropping gender barriers.
However, despite a tableau of senior personnel officers gathered at the Pentagon to explain how they were marching toward a future of gender integration in combat, the process will be slow and deliberate.
The military has until Jan. 1, 2016, to open all combat positions to women — or convince the defense secretary of the rationale for exempting some units from gender integration. Congress must be notified along the way of decisions that could, potentially, open 237,000 combat positions to women, who make up 15 percent of the military.
The services have identified a few previously closed combat jobs that can be opened more rapidly to women.
The Navy pledged that, by July, it will inform Congress of plans to bring women into its Coastal Riverine Force, which operates along shorelines in harbors, rivers and bays. And the Air Force’s director of force management, Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, noted that today’s high-tech, computerized warplanes are intellectually demanding to operate and repair, and that the physical ability of a pilot to say, carry a heavy toolbox, is less important.