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Plans expected for integrating women into military's elite forces

June 18, 2013 at 3:14 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, June 18 (UPI) -- Women will be admitted into the elite units of the U.S. military, including the Navy SEALS, the Army Rangers and the Marine infantry, Pentagon officials said.

Service branch leaders were expected to outline their plans for integrating women into the elite units without lowering the units' rigorous standards Tuesday, The New York Times reported.

While former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in January he was lifting the military's official ban on women in combat, he did not say which combat positions might be open to them. The plans to be released Tuesday under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel indicate the military is prepared to assimilate women into the most elite combat units, the Times said.

Hagel said women should be fully integrated by Jan. 1, 2016. He lauded the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a memo for their "efforts to methodically and deliberately remove gender-restrictive barriers."

The news was met with a mixed review on Capitol Hill.

"Officially recognizing women in combat will strengthen our country both morally and militarily," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee. "By officially opening combat roles, more women will be able to advance their careers to the senior ranks and increase the diversity of our military leadership."

Countering, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement: "If necessary, we will be able to introduce legislation to stop any changes we believe to be detrimental to our fighting forces and capabilities."

Women comprise about 15 percent of the armed forces. Of the nearly 280,000 women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Times said more than 100 were killed in action.

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