Pentagon proposes opening 14,000 new military jobs to women, but some call proposal too modest

Laura Rozen

The Pentagon announced Thursday policy changes that will allow women to serve in around 14,000 military positions that were formerly restricted. But female veterans say the proposed policy changes are too modest and do not account for the fact that female soldiers are already working in combat environments.

The proposed changes are the product of a military review that was supposed to be issued last spring. Defense Department officials, outlining the report Thursday at a Pentagon press briefing, said if Congress adopts the proposed recommendations, women could be assigned in specialties that they are already approved to work in--including intelligence, logistics, and communications--to battalion-level units posted to war zones. Previously, they could only be assigned to larger brigade level units.

But Pentagon officials struggled to explain Thursday why the military won't open up far more jobs to women, especially given their experience serving in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan the past 10 years, when technical loopholes in the military rules allowed commanders to "assign" women soldiers to battalions.

"We don't have the full breadth or experience based on attachments," Maj. Gen. Gary Patton told Pentagon journalists Thursday. "But the experience of those women attached with those units, combined with the ones assigned here [under the new policy]--their collective experience will inform future" changes to the policy.

"This is an incremental step," he added.

Such incremental changes show the Pentagon's "brass ceiling," said Anu Bhagwati, head of the Service Women's Action Network, and a retired Marine officer.

"This proposed change is really semantics," Bhagwati, who served as a Marine officer from 1999 to 2004, told Yahoo News in an interview Thursday. "It assigns 14,000 women to these battalions. Right now on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, women are already attached to those units. Regardless of whether they are assigned or attached, they are doing the job already."

"We see this every time the military is presented with a policy reform that would actually bring it forward--race in the 40s and 50s, with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' even with the integration of women into the military academies in the 1970s," Bhagwati continued. "There's just a reluctance to acknowledge that women both want to serve and are completely qualified for these jobs," she continued. "What we are asking for is for all male combat units to be open to qualified women."