But citing some of the same reasons he presented in opposing the repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, Inhofe said he is concerned about making changes that might disrupt the force.
“Because that policy has worked so well for so long, I am concerned about the potential impacts of completely ending this policy,” Inhofe said.
He noted that while the Pentagon has rescinded the 1994 direct-combat definition and assignment rule, not all of the 237,000 positions previously closed to women will now be automatically open to women.
“Instead, the military services, under Secretary Panetta’s direction, will conduct a review of all unit and specialty positions to be completed no later than 2016,” Inhofe said.
Indeed, the Pentagon in a statement said Panetta directed the military departments to submit detailed plans by May 15 for the implementation of this change. This process will be completed by Jan. 1, 2016.
But Panetta said that changes made in 2012 that opened more than 14,000 new positions to women, including positions collocated with ground combat units and in some combat units below the battalion level, have reaped positive outcomes and affirm the need for change.
Panetta said he had no intention of lowering standards or qualifications in any way. Under law (PL 103-160), occupational performance standards must be gender-neutral, the Pentagon said.
“If they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation,” Panetta said.
Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, lauded the decision and noted that the military timeline for the changes was “ambitious.”
“Congress is here to help where we can,” she said in a statement. “Ultimately, it is the sacrifice and dedication of the service women that has brought about this historic change.”
In a written statement, President Barack Obama praised the Pentagon’s decision.
“As commander in chief, I am absolutely confident that — as with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ — the professionalism of our armed forces will ensure a smooth transition and keep our military the very best in the world,” he said.
The decision has the unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.