A female Marine does pull-ups Oct. 18 aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, during a training routine. The military services say they have assigned some of the research to develop physical and other job standards for women to serve in ground combat jobs to a series of Pentagon-connected think thanks. (Cpl. Katherine M. Solano / Marine Corps)
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WASHINGTON — The military services say they have assigned some of the research to develop physical and other job standards for women to serve in ground combat jobs to a series of Pentagon-connected think thanks, according to reports sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Information about the research, some of which will be conducted by organizations such as the Center for Naval Analyses and the Army Research Institute, was contained in reports provided last week to Hagel, according to a U.S. military official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the reports.
Supporters of lifting the “ground combat exclusion” say the extensive research about standards may delay allowing women into the ground combat jobs or create new obstacles.
“There is a little bit of urgency because you are going to lose those battle-tested women,” said Ariela Migdal, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented a group of women who sued the Pentagon last year over the ground combat exclusion. She questioned the need for such a lengthy review of requirements.
Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said she is concerned the process hasn’t been more open.
“There’s not a lot of transparency,” she said.
Critics of opening combat roles for women, such as Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., worry it will lead to lowering standards. Supporters are concerned about the creation of arbitrary standards that will serve as a barrier to women.
The service reviews are designed to analyze the precise physical and other standards needed to successfully work in fields, such as infantry and special operations, which are closed to women. The standards would apply to men and women.
Women have played a growing role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but some job specialties, such as infantry, remain closed to them. The primary purpose of the infantry is to engage in close combat with the enemy.
Some other fields, such as engineering, are open to women but they cannot serve at the battalion level or below, which are considered frontlines in conventional wars.
Women already fly combat aircraft and serve on ships.
The policy shift would have the most impact on the Army and Marine Corps. The order could open more than 200,000 jobs to women.
The services have until Jan. 1, 2016, to finalize the plan to open all specialties to women. If a service wants to keep some fields closed to women they would need to seek authorization from the defense secretary.
Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January ordered the services to open all jobs to women.
As part of the order, the services were required to provide a report in May on how they would proceed to open up all jobs to women. The Pentagon will provide a status report to Congress this summer.