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In the months to come, there will be some hard and fast deadlines that the services must meet.
The first will be a report to the secretary of Defense, due by mid-May, that will explain how the services plan to implement the lifting of the ban on women in combat.
They will then be expected to “move ahead expeditiously,” says a Pentagon official, who also could speak only on condition of anonymity.
By January 2016, the services must give the Pentagon leadership notice if they believe that there are particular fields into which women should not be integrated. These might include Special Operations Force fields like the Navy SEALs.
Yet the expectation is that the services will develop a plan to include women in specialties that range from infantry to artillery, known in military parlance as the combat arms professions.
“We would expect that the services would provide a combination of ‘This is what we think we can do sooner,’ and ‘This is how we intend to execute,’ ” says the Pentagon official.
The issue of physical requirements is one with which the services continue to grapple. Though senior military officials acknowledge that they might, in some cases, have to develop gender-neutral standards, they stress that standards will not fall.
Mr. Panetta acknowledged that not all women will meet the standards required to serve in some of the military’s most physically demanding jobs.
“In life, there are no guarantees of success. Not everyone is going to be a combat soldier,” he cautioned. “But everyone is entitled to the chance.”