SEAL Team 6 could include women by 2016 under Pentagon plan

The Pentagon has said women will be able to compete for positions within Special Operations Forces like SEAL Team 6. The transition won't be simple, officials warn.

Mark Humphrey/AP/File
Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Ky., last year. Women may be able to begin training as Army Rangers by mid-2015, and as Navy SEALs a year later under a new Pentagon plan.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it is moving forward with the “complete integration" of women into US Special Operations, suggesting that women will be eligible to compete for slots in the elite Army Rangers and Navy SEAL Team 6 units.

“The days of Rambo are over,” Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, director of force management and development for US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) told reporters Tuesday. “The defining characteristic of our operators [is] intellect.”

But while such a move has the potential to “provide a new and powerful dimension" to Special Operations, “much work remains to be done,” according to a Department of Defense memo from SOCOM head Adm. William McRaven.

This includes studying what the social impact of having women as special operators might be, as well as better understanding the challenges that go along with “integrating women into small, elite teams that operate in remote, austere environments,” wrote Admiral McRaven in his memo to the joint chiefs on March 22.

Under the current plan, women could begin training with Army Rangers by 2015 and with Navy SEALs by 2016.

In his note to the joint chiefs, McRaven expressed some reservations about the move.

“I have concerns specific to [US Special Operations Command] that must be addressed prior to making an informed recommendation” for bringing women into Special Forces operations, “many of which are in austere, politically-sensitive environments for extended periods.”

For this reason, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) have commissioned the RAND Corp. to do a “don’t ask, don’t tell” style survey to see how special operators feel about bringing women into the elite units, General Sacolick said.

So should special operators be permitted to nix the possibility of women serving in the Army Rangers or Navy SEALs if current operators are uncomfortable with the idea?

“They’ve got to embrace it,” Sacolick responded, adding that elite SOF units operate in small, “12 man” units, sometimes, as the only Americans serving in a foreign country.

While “rank and file” SOF troops have expressed “concerns” about the move, it is the “vocal minority” that often expresses these views, Sacolick said, adding that he hopes the RAND survey will provide the “quiet professionals” with an “outlet.”

On a personal note, Sacolick added that he more concerned about the “cultural, social, and behavioral – those aspects, of integration” than the ability of women to meet physical standards

“Quite frankly, I was encouraged by just the physical performance of some of the young girls” training at Fort Bragg, N.C., the headquarters of Army Special Operations Command, he said, referring to the female troops who deploy to Afghanistan to work alongside SOF troops as cultural advisers.

Units within SOCOM are slated to report back in approximately one year – by July 1, 2014 – with “gender-neutral” occupational performance standards.

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