By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 01, 2013) -- Last month, the Secretary of Defense announced an end to the Direct Ground Combat Exclusion Rule for female Soldiers. But the Army wants commanders in the field to know that it will be some time before they'll be able to make any changes in their units.
"There will be no immediate changes," said Col. Linda Sheimo, chief of the Command Programs and Policy Division at the Human Resources Policy Directorate, Army G-1. "In order to open any position that is closed, whether it is due to the military occupational specialty (MOS), or the unit's mission, all the services have to submit a detailed request outlining the MOS, the unit, the numbers, and also a legal analysis, that has to go through the Army leadership to the Secretary of Defense."
The Secretary of Defense, or SecDef, then has to notify Congress of the intent to open those positions, and Congress has a specific amount of time to consider the issue before anything in the services can change, Sheimo said.
"The very soonest that anything could happen would be this summer," Sheimo said.
The Army now has more than 450 MOSs, about 20 of which are currently closed to female Soldiers. Additionally, there are units in the Army that are closed to women, based on the mission of those units. So, within those units, even if there are jobs with MOSs that women are allowed to do elsewhere in the Army, women would not be allowed to serve in those MOSs within those specific units.
The SecDef's announcement is expected to change the current policy, and could open up new opportunities for women in the Army and in the other services, Sheimo said.
"The intent of the policy change is to make every position open, by January 1st, 2016, regardless of gender, unless we get an approved exception to policy to keep it closed," Sheimo explained.
Such exceptions, Sheimo said, must be approved by the SecDef and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The announcement by the SecDef amounts to a "reversal" of the current policy, Sheimo said. Where today, women are excluded from some jobs and units and a special exception must be approved in order to get women into those particular jobs; in the future, the policy will be that all jobs are open to women and if the services want to exclude women they must get a special approved exception that explains why they should be excluded.
The Army has not completed the analysis it needs in order to open any more MOSs or units to women, but the Army already has an effort underway to meet the SecDef's suspense date.
"The Army is pursuing a very careful and deliberate approach," she said. "As we move forward we will open units and/or MOSs as we complete the appropriate assessments, and we will submit those requests to Congress to open those positions."
When the Army does eventually open units and MOSs to women, the service will focus not only on recruiting from the outside -- but will also look for volunteers from inside the Army in order to fill important leadership roles in those units and MOSs, Sheimo said, for both enlisted Soldiers and officers.
"Leadership is a key element of success in this effort," Sheimo said. "It's very important to have a leadership cadre in place. Initially it will have to come from other MOSs and specialties."
But for now, Sheimo said, commanders in the field should know that no new positions are open to women.
"The Army will not open any position before congressional notification has been done and the notification period is complete," Sheimo said.