The U.S. Army has approved the first female officers for ground combat missions, following new rules that open all military combat positions to women.
The 22 women have almost finished their officer training and must complete training in specialty schools to enter either the armor branch or infantry branch. Previously, women had been barred from joining frontline combat roles in the U.S. military, including the infantry.
An Army statement Friday said the women must complete the remaining training and physical requirements before they can qualify as combat officers.
In December, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the military would open all occupations to women this year, saying America’s all-volunteer fighting force cannot afford to ignore half of the population in the 21st century that requires “drawing strength from the broadest possible pool,” including women.
He said that decisions about tasks and jobs throughout the armed forces will be made on ability, not gender and that equal opportunity will not necessarily mean equal participation. Carter said physical abilities will be taken into account for certain jobs, and that international realities will also have to be considered regarding certain missions.
The move garnered criticism from some parts of Capitol Hill, where the chairs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees warned of the “consequential impact on our service members and our military’s warfighting capabilities.”
Women had been inching their way toward combat roles since the mid-1970s when they first became eligible to attend the military service academies and enlist in the U.S. armed forces. Until this year, women were only prohibited from combat jobs, about 10 percent of military occupations.