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Spec Ops may need to be exempt from integrating women, SOCOM official says

Jun. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Air Force Brig. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, director of Force Management Policy, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, with other members of the U.S. military services and U.S. Special Operations Command, briefs the media at the Pentagon to provide an update on plans for integrating women into previously closed positions.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, director of Force Management Policy, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, with other members of the U.S. military services and U.S. Special Operations Command, briefs the media at the Pentagon to provide an update on plans for integrating women into previously closed positions. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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Special Operations Command may require special exemptions from the Pentagon’s plan to open all military jobs to women by 2016, a top SOCOM general said Tuesday.

“We have some genuine concerns that must be addressed,” said Army Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick at a press briefing Tuesday.

“Our mission is different so our standards are different,” said Sacolick, the director of force management and development for U.S. SOCOM.

Sackolic said the “social, cultural, behavioral” aspects of integration pose bigger concerns than the gender-neutral physical standards that women will have to meet.

“We don’t deploy in large formations. I mean, we send a 12-man or 18-man or even smaller [unit] into very austere or remote environments by themselves. In many respects they may be the only Americans serving in a particular country. And so I think that complicates, you know, integration.”

“I’m actually more concerned with the men and their reaction to women in their formations, quite frankly,” he said.

Sacolick spoke at the Pentagon alongside top personnel officials from the four military services as they presented detailed timelines for how to implement former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s January order to integrate women into all military jobs by 2016.

By January 2016, keeping any military jobs off limits to women will require specific exemptions to be personally approved by the Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Sacolick said SOCOM will continue to study the matter for the next two years before deciding whether to seek an exemption. “We haven’t made any decisions whatsoever” he said. “We are going to spend the next year collecting data.”

SOCOM will have input into the integration of about 16,000 of the military’s most demanding jobs, including Army special forces, Navy SEALs, special operations Marines and Air Force jobs including combat controllers and special operations weather personnel.

“I hear the rank and file. Their concerns are, you know, once again, you’ve got a 12-man [detachment]” in an isolated setting, “what are the implications there? ... There are privacy issues. There are other issues, there [is the] health and welfare of female operators in austere environment. These are all those things we’re concerns about, probably more than the actual [physical] standards,” he said.

SOCOM is conducting an internal study that will be “primarily focused on the social implications of integrating women at the team level” Sacolick said.

Also, SOCOM commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct a study of the “behavioral and cultural aspects of integrating women into our formations that operate in that remote special-operations environment.”

Sacolick did not rule out a future when a Special Forces detachment includes a lone female.

He noted that some SOCOM units in civil affairs and “cultural support teams” have opened to women in recent years and that he was impressed by those women.

“Quite frankly I was encouraged by the physical performance of some of the young girls who aspire to go into the cultural support teams. They very well may provide the foundation. for ultimate integration” Sacolick said.

He also said he expected the vast majority of special operators to accept the policy adopted by the military leadership.

“Ultimately they volunteered, they serve and I would image they would do what they’re told, but I need to give them an opportunity to vice their opinion,” he said.

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