In a final, outgoing memo to President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Thursday praised the military’s new social change policies that promote diversity in the armed forces.
Over the course of the Obama administration, which has spanned two terms, an unprecedented sea change in military social policy took place. Under Obama, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, the Pentagon radically stepped up its efforts to eradicate sexual harassment, female servicemembers were provided additional benefits (in an effort to lower drop-out rates) and Carter himself opened all combat roles to women without exception and permitted transgenders to serve openly. The last decision (women, combat) is perhaps the most significant, since its implications are so far-reaching.
Carter’s predecessor, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, started the ball rolling when he commissioned a review of gender-based exclusionary policies in 2012, which continued all the way up to 2015. Carter officially opened all combat roles to women in 2015, granting women access to 213,000 positions and 52 specialties.
The last two accomplishments Carter chose to highlight in his farewell memo — opening combat roles and allowing transgenders to serve openly — have been held up as perfect illustrations of the administration’s philosophy on the military. Namely, the outgoing administration believed at an institutional level that all segments of society should have the opportunity to serve in all roles, so long as they meet the required standards. And the Pentagon has pledged, time and again, that those standards will not be lowered. Such commitments were maintained even when former military officials, like now-retired Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, said that there will inevitably be great pressure on the bureaucracy to lower standards because of female underperformance relative-to-men.
“As an All-Volunteer Force, DoD must be able to draw from 100 percent of America’s population, focusing purely on a person’s willingness and ability to serve our country,” Carter explained in his final memo. “We can no longer afford to allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”
For Carter, blanket bans on certain populations serving in the military will only result in a weakened force.
Although the repeal of the ban on transgenders serving openly won’t be fully completed until President Barack Obama is out of office, Carter is confident that the process has been well set in motion.
“This year, we lifted DoD’s ban on transgender service members, setting standards for medical care and outlining responsibilities for Military Services and commanders to develop and implement guidance, training and specific policies in the near and long-term,” he wrote.
Carter is expected to further discuss his legacy as secretary of defense Jan. 11 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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