WASHINGTON - Women could be able to start training as Army Rangers by mid-2015 and as Navy SEALs a year later under plans set to be announced by the Pentagon that would slowly bring women into thousands of combat jobs, including those in elite special forces.
Details of the plans were obtained by The Associated Press. They call for requiring women and men to meet the same physical and mental standards to qualify for certain infantry, armor, commando and other front-line positions across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reviewed the plans and has ordered the services to move ahead.
The move, expected to be announced today, follows revelations of a startling number of sexual assaults in the armed forces. Earlier this year, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the sexual assaults might be linked to the long-standing ban on women serving in combat because the disparity between the roles of men and women creates separate classes of personnel - male "warriors" versus the rest of the force.
While the sexual-assault problem is more complicated than that, he said, the disparity has created a psychology that lends itself to disrespect for women.
Under the schedules military leaders delivered to Hagel, the Army will develop standards by July 2015 to allow women to train and potentially serve as Rangers, and qualified women could begin training as Navy SEALS by March 2016 if senior leaders agree.
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 transition.
The proposals leave the door open for continued exclusion of women from some jobs, if research and testing find that women could not be successful in sufficient numbers, but the services would have to defend such decisions.
Women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or neighboring nations in support of the wars there.