Meghann Myers, Navy Times
27 May 2015
The Defense Department is scheduled to open all operational billets to women on Jan. 1, 2016, unless individual services provide pressing reasons against it or lawmakers intervene.
For the Navy, that means that the storied SEAL brotherhood could be welcoming women early next year — a momentous cultural shift that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus
One of the main concerns around integration is whether qualification standards will be changed to accommodate women, who have higher body fat levels and different fitness standards in the fleet.
The special operations community has a much tougher PRT, and it could change with integration.
"In all cases, I personally believe we ought to have one standard for both sexes, a standard that matches the demands of the job, and if you pass, you pass," Mabus said in a May 13 speech at the Naval Academy.
The Navy is studying current standards to see if they're directly related to doing the job, he said, and will revise them if necessary.
But when asked by a midshipman whether the qualifications would be lowered
"Keep the standards," he said. "Do not lower standards in any regard."
Mabus said the Navy Department will make recommendations about how to integrate women as Navy special operators, the last jobs closed to them, to President Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter later this year.
This would also affect the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, infantry and other combat jobs
still closed to women, as well as the corpsmen and other sailors assigned to these units.
Though he would not elaborate on how standards could change once women are allowed to attend Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training, he alluded to the idea that the special operator fitness standards as they exist are about to change.
"First we're going to make sure there are standards, second that they're gender-neutral and third that they have something to do with the job," Mabus told Navy Times.
The SEALs would be the latest, and the last, of the traditionally male-only branches to open to women during Mabus' tenure.
In 2011, the first female officers reported to ballistic missile submarines, and early this year several more reported to Virginia-class attack subs. Enlisted women are on track to join them next year and the service is already recruiting enlisted women off the streets to enter submarine ratings.
And in 2012, riverine training opened to women, making way for the go-ahead to assign them to billets and deploy them last year.
But what's not clear is how many women would even attempt to be SEALs, even if the career were open to them as the number of women in similar ratings and communities to special warfare are very low.
Both the Navy Diver and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist ratings have been open to women for the better part of 30 years. In those ratings open to women, they rank first and second with the fewest women in their ranks.
Out an end strength of 1,153, there are only seven female ND's — just .61 percent of the force. In EOD as a whole, there's 1,094 sailors of which women make up .91 percent with 10 in the ranks.
In the officer ranks, Explosive Ordnance Disposal officers fill officer billets at both EOD and fleet diver commands — billets that have also been open to women for decades — just 2.79 percent of women in that community are women.
But what Navy officials say they are committed to is that women have the opportunity to serve where they want. Since January 2013, when the Combat Exclusion was ended for good, the Navy first conducted a thorough review of all billets closed to women and since then opened 17,000 of them to women, according to Cmdr. Renee Squier, head of enlisted plans for the chief of naval personnel.
"The Department of Defense will announce final decisions to integrate the remaining closed positions and occupations and any approved exceptions to policy on or about January 1, 2016," Squier said. "Navy foresees no insurmountable obstacles to integration."