Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James announced that she hopes to make all of the military branch’s jobs open to women in the next 18 months.
Currently, there are seven jobs in the Air Force that are closed to women, and as of April 2013 there were 4,600 men in those positions, which include combat rescue officer and enlisted combat controller. But James said she is working on gender-neutral standards for all jobs, which will open them to anyone who is qualified.
“That is to say, whatever the standard is, it would be the same for men and women,” she said in Hawaii in the midst of an 11-day tour of Pacific Air Force bases.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the Pentagon’s ban on women in combat roles in January 2013 and ordered each military service to devise plans to make all of its jobs available to women. Most of the jobs not available to women are in the Army, and James said that the Air Force already has more jobs open to women than any other armed service.
James, who became secretary in December 2013, is also making it a priority to retain more of the Air Force’s women. She noted that mid-career women leave the service at twice the rate of comparable men. “We need to bore down and figure out why that is happening and how we can turn that around,” she said.
The Air Force reports that as of Sept. 30, 18.9 percent of its 312,453 active-duty personnel were women, and 19.9 percent of its 62,349 officers. There were also 671 female pilots (out of 13,303), 271 navigators (out of 3,505) and 225 air battle managers (out of 1,489).
On the civilian side, 29.5 percent of the Air Force’s approximately 140,000 employees were women.
The Army reported that as of Sept. 30, 2013, 14 percent of its 528,070 active-duty personnel were women, and 37 percent of its 231,227 civilian employees.
The Navy reported as of June 2014 that 17 percent of its active-duty personnel were women.