WASHINGTON - Declaring "the days of Rambo are over," a top general said Tuesday that cultural, social and behavioral concerns may be bigger hurdles than tough physical-fitness requirements for women looking to join the military's special operations units.
Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, director of force management for U.S. Special Operations Command, said having seen women working alongside commando teams in Afghanistan, he is less concerned about their physical strength than the social issues that could arise.
His comments came as military leaders mapped out plans Tuesday to develop physical and mental standards for thousands of combat jobs and slowly bring women into front-line positions, including possibly Navy SEAL teams or Army Ranger units, where they historically have been banned from serving.
"I'm actually more concerned with the men and their reaction to women in their formations, quite frankly," Sacolick said, reflecting concerns about whether men would accept women in units that have long operated as small, male-only teams working in close quarters and harsh environment for extended periods.
He said the military has moved beyond the Hollywood stereotype of a commando, instead looking for special operators who "can speak … a foreign language, who understand culture, who can work with indigenous populations and have culturally attuned manners," Sacolick said. "When people fail in the special forces qualification course, predominantly they fail because they're not doing their homework."
Under details the military laid out Tuesday, women could start training as Army Rangers by mid-2015 and as Navy SEALs a year later. Special Operations Command is coordinating the studies of what commando jobs could be opened to women, what exceptions might be requested and when the transition would take place.
The proposals could mean that women are still excluded from some jobs if research and testing find that women could not be successful. But the services would have to defend such decisions to top Pentagon leaders.
The military services have mapped out a schedule that includes reviewing and possibly changing the physical and mental requirements for certain infantry, armor, commando and other front-line positions across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Under the plans there would be common requirements for men and women for each post, and it would be based on specific tasks troops need to do in order to perform those jobs.
Military leaders have suggested bringing senior women from the officer and enlisted ranks into special forces units first to ensure that younger, lower-ranking women have a support system to help them get through the transition.
The Navy intends to open up its Riverine force and begin training women next month, with the goal of assigning women to the units by October. While not part of the special operations forces, the coastal Riverine squadrons do close combat and security operations in small boats. The Navy plans to have studies finished by July 2014 on allowing women to serve as SEALs, and has set October 2015 as the date when women could begin boot camp with the intention of becoming SEALs.
Army officials have laid out a rolling schedule of dates in 2015 to develop gender-neutral standards for specific jobs, beginning with July for combat engineers, followed by field artillery in March and the infantry and armor jobs no later than September.
Similar Marine Corps jobs are also currently closed, and would also be opened on a rolling basis.