On July 22, 2017, the first female candidate enlisted to become a Navy SEAL. Wishing to stay anonymous, the woman was able to step up thanks to a 2015 Pentagon directive that opened up all military combat jobs to women.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the decision to open up all combat jobs in the United States to women in December 2015. Effective January 2016, the decision opened about 220,000 military jobs to women. In his announcement, Carter said, “Fully integrating women into all military positions will make the US armed forces better and stronger.”
The overturning of the longstanding rule that restricted women from combat roles had been a long time coming. For nearly 15 years, women had already found themselves in intense combat situations while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, by barring women from officially holding combat positions, including the infantry, it held them back from advancing their military careers.
However, since the formal implementation of admitting women to combat positions, very few female service members have joined the combat arms population in the military. Nevertheless, women are starting to break new ground in the military. In April 2016, Captain Kristen Marie Griest became the first female Army infantry officer. This was a major moment, considering women had previously been barred from even joining the infantry. In January 2017, a female Army officer successfully completed the selection process to join the 75th Ranger Regiment. In February 2018, the U.S. Army added three more posts for women serving in combat arms roles. Women can now join the 101st Airborne Division, the 4th Infantry Division and 1st Armored Division.
Also in 2018, the first wave of female Marines graduated from the Camp Pendleton Marine Combat Training course. Just recently, on June 22, 2018, the first woman took command of a Marine ground combat arms unit. The following day, the second female Marine completed the course and she intends to be a ground intelligence officer.
Despite these gains, it will still take a while to fully integrate women into all military positions. Each woman who breaks down a barrier in the military – including the first female to enlist in the Navy SEAL program a year ago today – gets us closer to that goal!