Pentagon Says Women In All Combat Units By 2016

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

(Washington / CNN) The Pentagon unveiled plans Tuesday for fully integrating women into front-line and special combat roles, including elite forces such as Army Rangers and Navy SEALs.

While Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine and special forces commanders detailed steps they will take, not all shared the same comfort level with the initiative, raising potential real-world scenarios that must be addressed before moving too far forward.

There was concern for how women might handle some of the more taxing physical demands of combat across the board and for how men might view the presence of female troops in tight-knit elite units.

Women are permitted to serve in some hazardous jobs and did so in Iraq and Afghanistan where a number were killed. But it wasn’t until January that then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formally lifted the official ban on women in combat.

Top leadership embraced the overall concept and goal of completing the change by January 2016, but gave service commanders some room to fill in the details.

“The department remains committed to removing all gender barriers wherever possible and meeting our missions with the best qualified and most capable personnel,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a May 21 memo to individual service leaders that was released on Tuesday.

“I remain confident that we will retain the trust and confidence of the American people by opening positions to women, while ensuring that all members entering these newly opened positions can meet the standards required to maintain our warfighting capability,” Hagel said.

More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, representing about 14.5% of the overall force, according to Pentagon figures. Most serve in the Army.

Despite the past official ban on combat, some women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan found themselves in firefights. They have been part of gun crews, air crews and in seamanship specialties.

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