A representative of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) on Tuesday left open the possibility that women could soon start training in the most elite special forces of the military–though he stressed that leaders have yet to make any explicit decisions.
“The days of Rambo are over,” said Army Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, director of force management and development for U.S. SOCOM on Tuesday, adding that “there’s a new dynamic” among men and women in the military.
However, Sacolick stressed that no decisions “whatsoever” have been made with regard to opening up the most elite positions–the Army Rangers and the Navy SEALs–to women. “We’re going to spend the next year collecting and analyzing data,” he said. Another outcome could be that SOCOM would need special exemptions from integrating women.
Speaking at a briefing announcing the schedule for ending the military’s official 20-year ban on women in combat, Sacolick said that SOCOM would conduct a survey of every special ops troop designed to gauge the general feeling on women joining the ranks. The schedule follows the announcement in January by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to remove the limits on the nearly quarter-million artillery, infantry, armor, and special operations jobs currently closed to women. Chuck Hagel, the current defense secretary, has set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2016, for the implementation to be finalized.
Sacolick said he was more concerned about the health and behavioral issues associated with integrating women into Special Operations than he was with any physical concerns. He also added that he was “more concerned with the men and their reaction to women in their formations” than he was with any behavioral standards women may not be able to meet.
Branches of service are currently in the process of developing certain gender-neutral tests that can serve to evaluate both men and women for combat roles. The Army plans to open jobs in sequence, beginning with engineers in 2014, and then armor and infantry units in 2015, reports USA Today. The Marine Corps already has already developed five gender-neutral physical tests for men and women to take this year, including lifting a simulated tank round and scaling a wall. Integration into special forces units is expected to take the longest.
Marine Colonel Jon Aytes, who leads the military policy branch for the Marine Corps, said that certain standards cannot change if women are integrated into more combat positions.
“Regardless of whether you’re a male or a female, ‘Load the tank round’ has got to be one that is done by a male tank gunner or a female gunner,” said Aytes on Tuesday. “We don’t have different sized weight rounds for them, and it’s got to be done by everybody.”
Women already serve as combat pilots and flight crews for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. In more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 150 women have been killed, according to the military.
“I’ve had the pleasure and honor of serving with many, many talented, selfless female service members,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, one of the first female combat veterans to serve in Congress, on NewsNation Tuesday. “If given the opportunity, these women would be a great asset to any fighting unit, and would be able to meet those requirements.”
NBC’s Courtney Kube contributed to this report.