“I do support providing women with various opportunities to serve in any capacity as long as we are not lowering standards… and that we’re not decreasing our combat effectiveness.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) questioned the Secretary of the Army nominee, Honorable Eric K. Fanning, on the military’s implementation timetable of their gender integration policy. The hearing comes on the heels of Senator Ernst’s recent visits to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where she visited the installations to hear firsthand from those who ultimately engage our nation’s enemies in close combat—our Army and Marine infantrymen and special operations soldiers—about the path forward to ensure gender integration ultimately is effective for our national defense.
During the hearing, Senator Ernst questioned Fanning, as to whether he had talked through gender integration with soldiers yet.
The Iowa Senator also stressed, “In order to ensure that women are fully integrated into these previously closed positions, I believe the implementation strategy must be thoroughly and fully developed, to include having an understanding of those secondary and tertiary effects so that we’re not setting our women or our men up for failure.”
This follows the U.S. Department of Defense’s announcement to open all military occupations and positions, including combat roles, to women without any exception. Senator Ernst responded with a cautionary sentiment that this “must be a military decision, and not a political one.”
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SEN. ERNST: Thank you Mr. Chair, thank you Mr. Fanning for being here today and for your service in so many different capacities throughout our various departments. I want to thank your mother for joining us today as well, thank you Kathy for being here. As you know, Mr. Fanning, last month Secretary Carter announced that all military occupational specialties will be open to women. I do support providing women with various opportunities to serve in any capacity, as long as we are not lowering standards to allow participation and that we are not decreasing our combat effectiveness. So, in order to ensure that women are fully integrated into these previously closed positions, I believe the implementation strategy must be thoroughly and fully developed to include having an understanding of those secondary and tertiary effects so that we are not setting our women or our men up for failure. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with a number of soldiers and Marines. I’ve visited Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, as well as Marine Base Quantico in Virginia, and during my trip to Ft. Bragg, I was able to sit down with a number of special operators and airborne paratroopers from the 82nd to discuss the gender integration, and I did the same at Quantico. Both of these groups were mostly senior level NCO’s, some more junior and non-commission officers, and, of course, some junior officers, both men and women, and really talked about gender integration. Have you had the opportunity to go out and talk through gender integration with soldiers, and are you committed to doing that if you have not?
HON. FANNING: I have, and I have been to Ft. Benning, Ft. Bragg, Ft. Hood, and I spent a lot of time at Benning in particular, discussing this issue, down at a ranger school. And if confirmed, it would be a dialogue I would continue to have because I share your view that we need to get this right. It is critical that we get this right.
SEN. ERNST: Absolutely, and I think we have to again make sure that we are planning wisely, and that we are understanding what any follow-on effects will be, whether it is positive or whether it is negative as well. One of the top concerns I’ve heard about the implementation is that it shouldn’t be done haphazardly, and we have seen this recently with short terms of getting plans turned in and short turn around for implementation and I’m directing those comments at the Marines. But we want to make sure that the Army does it right. We want to make sure everybody does it right. Do you think that having such a quick turnaround of 15 days for a plan to work that out, do you think that’s enough time to get it right?
HON. FANNING: I haven’t seen the Marine Corps plan or any guidance they have been given. I will say that I think getting this right means doing it methodically, deliberately, and however much time it takes to get it right. And the Army plan as I saw it before I left is just that—it is a long term plan that I think is carefully thought through, starting with validated requirements for an entry man, for example. What requirements do you need to meet to do the job at entry man, and if you can meet the requirements, then we can start from there. But I don’t believe in the Army plan, and all of the plans are with the Secretary of Defense for review, you are going to see anything that looks like a rush to judgment.
SEN. ERNST: I am very hopeful of that.
HON. FANNING: That would set us back, set back the opportunities for women and take us more time in the end.
SEN. Ernst: Yes and I agree with that, we do have to be very methodical and talk about the implications of the standards and what that might do to orders of merit lists and promotion opportunities. Are we setting our women back or moving them forward? We don’t know what those implications are yet. So, I appreciate your thoughtful approach to that. Also, do you believe that women now that we’ve opened up those areas—combat—do you believe that women should be required to register for the selective service?
HON. FANNING: Senator, I think that’s something that the administration has taken up and is looking for a recommendation for Secretary Carter, so I can’t get out front of him. I will say if we are focused on equal opportunity, I think a part of that is equal responsibility.
SEN. ERNST: Okay thank you. I do appreciate your thoughtful manner as we work with our soldiers in the Army. I also want to echo—I know Senator Sullivan—had spoken earlier about the 425 and we want to make sure that we are protecting our assets in the Pacific Northwest, that is of great concern, many of us have talked that through, and so I would appreciate your consideration with that as well. Thank you Ranking Member Reid, and thank you Mr. Fanning.
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