Washington: In a major step towards integrating women into ground combat roles, the US Army will commission the first 22 women currently under training as second lieutenants in the infantry and armour branches under historic new rules that open ground combat jobs to females.
The 22 women are near completion of their officer training and will be commissioned in coming weeks, the Army has said.
They need to successfully complete the specialty schools and meet the physical requirements before fully qualifying in the fields, USA Today reported.
The military had expected only a small number of women to volunteer for the jobs, at least initially. The Marine Corps said about 200 women a year would likely join newly-opened ground combat positions, including the infantry.
The latest Army numbers seem to reflect that forecast, though the numbers could grow as more women enter the fields and pave the way for others, the report said.
The 22 women are currently in West Point or ROTC and will be commissioned as officers when they graduate. Thirteen will enter the armor field and nine will join infantry.
Women have served extensively in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. But until now, they had been prohibited from so-called ground combat fields, which include infantry, armour and Special Forces.
The historic new rules likely place them in leadership roles in occupations that were never open to them before.
Three years ago the Pentagon ordered all jobs to be open to women by the beginning of this year. During that time, the military services studied physical standards and developed gender-neutral physical tests used to screen applicants.
The Marine Corps requested an exception for infantry, citing a study that showed infantry units with women did not perform as well as all-male units.
Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, however, denied the request this year, saying there would be no exceptions. The Marines pledged to successfully implement the order.
Carter said standards would not decline as a result of allowing women to enter the ground combat jobs.
Those standards are tough. No woman has yet completed the Marine Corps’ rigorous Infantry Officer Course, although 29 women have tried. Three women have graduated from the Army’s Ranger School, a physically demanding small unit leaders’ course, since they opened it up to women for the first time last year.