EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The commander at Fort Bliss said Thursday that he supports allowing women to serve in combat positions but wants uniform physical training standards for men and women.
Gen. Dana Pittard called the change "the right thing to do" during at a news conference at the West Texas Army post that was held shortly after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the ban had been lifted. But, Pittard said "the requirements ought to be equal. The Army is looking at that."
Several other military facilities in Texas declined to comment on the issue Thursday, deferring questions to Panetta's office.
Soldiers have expressed concerns that some women would not meet the physical requirements of some infantry and artillery jobs. Brandon Pryor, an air defense staff sergeant at the base, said "I don't want a 100-pound woman trying to pull me out of an overturned Humvee."
Panetta said in a news conference in Washington that the requirements already in place to participate in combat duties would not be lowered. He expects not all women who apply for the positions to meet the qualifications, "but everyone is entitled to a chance," he said.
Pittard said women have shown interest in joining combat positions and that it should not pose a significant challenge as most Army units already are integrated. He compared the development to past steps taken by the Army toward integration, such as desegregation in 1948 and allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in 2011.
Soldiers, the commander said, "just kind of get it, they are more concerned about the competency of their fellow soldier" than a soldier's gender or sexual orientation.
The decision to lift the ban presents a challenge to top military leaders who will have to decide which jobs, if any, should be open only to men.
Women comprise about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or to jobs in neighboring nations in support of those wars. Of the more than 6,600 U.S. service members who have been killed in the wars in the two countries, 152 have been women who were serving in support roles.
About 237,000 positions remained closed to women before Panetta's announcement. Positions should be opened before January 2016 or earlier, the directive mandates.
Associated Press writer Besty Blaney contributed to this report from Lubbock.