Navy SEALs commander: Welcoming women the 'right thing to do'

The head of the Navy's special warfare units recommends that SEALs and other special combat forces set gender-neutral standards. 

Mark Humphrey
Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan.

The Navy SEALs are now more ready than ever to welcome women.

In a five-page report to the US Special Operations Command, the head of the Navy's special warfare units recommends that the SEALs and combat crew jobs should be open to women. Women will, however, have greater risk of injury, he warns, and the standards for the jobs may have to be lowered.

"We will welcome any candidate who meets standards,” Rear Adm. Brian Losey writes in the report obtained by the Associated Press.

Enabling anyone who steps up to the arduous physical and mental challenges and requirements of the job is “ultimately the right thing to do and is clearly consistent with the struggle over centuries to fully represent our nation's values of fairness and equal opportunity," his memo opens.

The memo recommends that the Special Warfare Command should omit the gender identity requirement on the application so that the most qualified men or women will be selected.

This announcement comes at the heels of of the Marine Corps’ decision to also take part in a wide integration effort among the military branches, despite a $36 million study on integrated combat units that cautioned that women demonstrated poorer aim and were injured more frequently.

In August, the highest ranking Navy admiral, Adm. Jon Greenert, indicated that SEALs were already on track to accept women, emphasizing the importance of gender-neutral standards during the six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training that 70 percent of men fail.

Rear Admiral Losey’s latest announcement isn’t without caveats. He says explicitly that women among the commando ranks will not increase the units’ ability in combat. The gender integration of the unit will go as far as diverting “focus and energy away from core combat readiness and effectiveness efforts,” he writes.

Another concern expressed is over adverse effects the vigorous physical demands of combat could have on women's health. 

However, Losey downplayed the cultural consequences of women serving among men. While some members of the SEALs may not want female counterparts in their units, men have no choice but to adapt, he writes.

Currently, there are about 500 women serving in Naval Special Warfare Command jobs, including combat support missions, Losey says, They’ve been part of the unit for more than a decade.

“Acceptance is expected to increase over time,” Losey writes, but adding that women may encounter undue marginalization and scrutiny.

In August, two women for the first time in history passed the Army Ranger School, one of the military’s most physically and mentally strenuous courses. Because of the ban on women in combat, they can’t yet be special operatives, the Monitor reported. But their Ranger tabs hold great prestige, as only 3 percent of all Army troops have acquired one.

"With the recent female graduates from the Ranger course, there may be an expectation that there will soon be female graduates from BUD/S," Losey said.

The matter of women in combat will hopefully be resolved by the end of next January, as this was the deadline set by President Barack Obama in 2013. Every US military branch will be required to either remove the exclusion on women, or extend it based on having conducted scientific research that shows why women shouldn't be on the front lines.

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