Thursday's decision to open all military jobs to women — including combat roles — earned both praise as well as and promises of closer scrutiny from members of Congress.
At a Pentagon press conference, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the military will open all combat jobs to women early next year, with "no exceptions."
Congress has 30 days to review the move, and leaders from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees promised to give "proper and rigorous oversight" to the decision's potential long-term effects on the force.
In a joint statement, Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, R-Texas, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the move will have "a consequential impact on our service members and our military's war-fighting capabilities."
Without offering any specific support or opposition to the move, the two said that they want defense officials to quickly turn over all research and rationale for the move — including a 1,000-page Marine Integrated Task Force report critical of allowing women in combat roles — to ensure that lawmakers fully understand the process that led to Carter's decision.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's personnel panel, offered praise for the women with whom he served during his time in the Army, but added that: "oOur first priority must be ensuring the safety and security of our troops" and that "this must be the foundation of any changes to the structure of military units." … this must be the foundation of any changes to the structure of military units."
Several Republican members of the HASC and SASCtwo armed services committees have publicly questioned whether the move is being driven more by political correctness than mission needs. Carter on Thursday said that the move is designed to add "strength to the joint force" by using the talents of every individual who meets military standards.
For supporters on Capitol Hill, that was welcome news.
"Today's historic announcement finally recognizes that our military is strongest when it prioritizes merit and capability, not gender — and it's about damn time," said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who is one of four female Iraq War veterans serving in Congress.
"Women have been fighting and dying for our country since its earliest wars," she said. "They have shown they can compete with the best of the best, and succeed. We are a country that looks at people as individuals, not groups."
SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the decision "a smart move that strengthens our nation." His House counterpart, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., called it "a strong move toward achieving full equality in our armed forces."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. — a vocal advocate of the change — praised the move as good for both the military and country.
"Today, we are telling every girl in America that she can serve her country just like the boys she is growing up with," Gillibrand said in a statement. "And we are setting the military up for the greatest possible success by giving it access to the very best America has to offer, regardless of gender."
The committees have not yet set any public hearings in the next month on the issue, but leaders have vowed to work closely with defense officials on the implementation plans.