Female SEALs? “This Is What We Must Find Out”

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Navy Photo / Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon / via Getty Images

Navy SEALs in training.

That’s the key point in the top commando’s message to his troops when it comes to adding women to the ranks of the nation’s SEALs, Rangers, Delta Force soldiers and other special operators.

Admiral William McRaven told his “SOF Warriors” that despite the assorted support roles women have been playing in special-operations units for years (including “Cultural Support Teams, Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Teams, Intelligence”) the jury is still out on whether women can join the toughest front-line units without hurting combat readiness.

…as we begin the implementation process, if we determine that there are SOF unique issues affecting the successful integration of women into SOF, then and only then, will I submit a request for exemption to the SECDEF…The question for SOF is whether we can absorb women into those Special Operations units whose job generally entails small teams, operating for long periods of time, in close proximity to the enemy or behind enemy lines and in close quarters with other soldiers.  And, can we achieve this level of integration without lowering our SOF standards?

McRaven said the exacting standards for special-operations forces are going to be scrubbed to ensure they make sense:

SOF standards have always been gender-neutral; they are just “the standard.” Our review will be a good opportunity to verify this assumption. And we will look at every task in each of our entry level qualification courses to be sure they are decisively tied to an operational requirement. Gender-neutral occupational standards will be validated not later than September 2015.

And there will be some outsiders peering over special-ops shoulders:

We have asked our Joint Special Operations University to conduct multiple studies, including one primarily focused on the social implications of integrating women at the team level…Additionally, we have commissioned RAND to provide analysis on both the behavioral and cultural aspects of integrating women into our formations that operate in remote environments, in order to get a non-biased third party analysis of our qualification course standards.

A final decision on what special-ops jobs, if any, will be barred to women will be made by Jan. 1, 2016.