Statement from USSOCOM on SECDEF’s Women in Service Review Decision
From U.S. Special Operations Command Public Affairs (Dec. 3, 2015)
Today, Secretary of Defense Carter announced his final determination to fully integrate all military positions, career fields, and specialties to women. USSOCOM would like to take this opportunity to stand behind Secretary Carter’s decision, and fully support opening all special operations specialties and units to female service members.
By the original order in January 2013, all the Services and USSOCOM were given the opportunity to request specific exceptions to this policy. After much study and careful consideration, USSOCOM Commander, General Joseph Votel, did not request an exception.
The USSOCOM staff and component teams have worked diligently on this effort over the last two-and-a-half years. The components conducted a thorough review of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policy. This review looked hard into how integration would affect the cohesion and capabilities of our tactical formations. USSOCOM also commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct a survey and hold focus groups to gain insight into the perspectives of the force, to thoroughly understand any concerns within the special operations force about the integration of women into the closed career fields and units.
As USSOCOM moves forward with integration, the command will absolutely not lower, raise, or create multiple sets of standards for special operations. If candidates meet time-tested and scientifically validated standards, and if they have proven that they have the physical, intellectual, professional, and character attributes that are so critical to special operations – they will be welcomed into the special operations forces ranks.
There are four principal factors that figured prominently into the decision to not seek an exception to this policy:
To begin, the first “SOF Truth” is that “Humans are more important than hardware.” This truth applies equally to women as it does to men, and special operations benefits from a more diverse force. Diversity provides access, insight and perspective that you simply can’t get with a homogenous force. USSOCOM needs a wide range of exceptional people to be combat effective and to help us address the complex security problems of today’s environment. As the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen has said, “it is vital to have people and voices at the table who, collectively, offer broader perspectives than anyone could alone.”
Second, USSOCOM and special operations have a proud and successful history in leading integration efforts. One of the command’s predecessor organizations, the Office of Strategic Services is an example by having one in five team members being female. Major General “Wild Bill” Donovan, a Medal of Honor recipient, described these women as “vital to an organization which touched every theater of war.” In modern special operations forces, USSOCOM has had unique programs in place for over 25 years, to include Civil Affairs and Military Information Support Operations. Aircrew positions in Air Force Special Operations Command were opened to women in 1993. Since 2011, women have been effectively employed as part of our Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan. Selected female service members placed with our strike force effectively doubled our access to the population. More recently, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment opened to women aviators in 2013. Integration is not new to special operations, and the force has benefited from having women in the ranks. Women serve in staff and leadership positions, and are as committed to the ethos of “Quiet Professionalism” as anyone else.
Third, after weighing and considering the rigorous analysis of factual data regarding the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities, and taking into careful consideration the advice provided by commanders and senior enlisted leaders, it was determined there was no compelling analytical data that would support an Exception to Policy for special operations.
Finally, the United States is a nation of opportunity. USSOCOM serves in a society that is built upon the belief that every American should be afforded the opportunity to rise to their full potential. Each service member in the special operations community today was, at some time, afforded the opportunity to challenge the assessment and selection processes. If people, men or women, can meet these standards, then they should be afforded the opportunity to achieve their full potential in the special operations community.
This integration does not come without concerns. In making the recommendation, USSOCOM was aware of medical studies that strongly suggest that women incur injuries at a greater rate than men. The command was also aware that some cultures and regions in which special operations forces operate may not be as accepting of female operators as they are of male operators. Additionally, the command was aware that some service studies have indicated that gender-integrated teams may perform at a lower level than all-male teams.
USSOCOM looked at all these studies carefully. Ultimately, it was determined that time-tested and validated assessment and selection standards and processes; experienced leadership; and the mature approach to mission accomplishment would mitigate these concerns.
USSOCOM wants to emphasize that the number one guiding direction from the chairman was to ensure the success of our nation’s warfighting forces by preserving unit readiness, cohesion, and morale. These concerns are absolutely paramount. America’s military and special operations forces are the best in the world because of the rigorous training and standards. These standards have proven to bring in the right people to the community, and these will not change.
USSOCOM must always ensure training standards are valid and directly linked to operational requirements. The Women In Service Review gave the opportunity to study the training standards to ensure they reflect the requirements of today’s battlefield.
This process used an industry-recognized standard, and was conducted by neutral third parties - the Naval Health Research Center and the Office of Personnel Management - working side by side with special operations forces’ training staffs. The results were significant. USSOCOM ultimately determined that the standards, time and battle tested, were absolutely relevant to the challenges operators face on the battlefield. Therefore, USSOCOM can say that current standards are based on occupational requirements, and neither favor nor prejudice any demographic or gender.
Several interviews with female service members confirmed that any deviation from these validated standards would only undermine a potential candidate’s credibility and be a disservice to the special operations community and those who are seeking to serve in it. USSOCOM understands that the only path to true integration requires that successful completion comes without caveat. The standards are, and will continue to be, the gatekeeper to service in all special operations occupations and units. They are protected by public law, and have the full support of our commander.
Bottom line – these standards have worked for decades, and USSOCOM is not going to change them. Special operations can trust in the assessment and selection processes to maintain the quality of our forces.
USSOCOM is confident that our effort will ultimately serve to benefit the community, the military, society, and nation. The command will create an environment that is fair and equitable for all who have the courage and fortitude to challenge themselves in the assessment and selection arenas, and who desire to serve the nation as members of this select community. General Votel is depending on special operations leadership to lead this integration, and has charged the force to uphold the “Quiet Professionalism” ethos that is the hallmark of America’s special operations forces.