WASHINGTON (AP) — As more female soldiers move into frontline combat jobs, the Army's top leaders have decided to integrate female officers into infantry and armor brigades at three more military bases around the country.
The decision comes a year after the first women began enlisting in the ground combat units, and it will send female officers to Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, and Fort Bliss in Texas. The increase — from two bases now to five — means that there will be women in infantry and armor units at 45 percent of the Army installations that have combat brigades. Until now, the integrated units were only at Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The expansion has been in the works for months, as Army commanders tracked how many female enlisted soldiers and officers chose the newly opened infantry and armor jobs. The numbers so far have revealed an unexpected trend: more entry-level female recruits are choosing the infantry, while female officers coming out of ROTC, West Point and the Army's Officer Candidate School are choosing armor units.
Army Col. Mike Lawhorn, spokesman for U.S. Army Forces Command, told The Associated Press that under the new plan, female soldiers would be included in one or two brigades at each base. But the uneven numbers of women choosing the combat jobs could result in female armor officers commanding units that have no women in them.
Over the next year, as more women enlist and graduate as officers, brigades at more bases will be integrated, according to an Army plan described to the AP. Those would include infantry and armor units at Fort Riley in Kansas, Fort Stewart in Georgia, Fort Drum in New York, Fort Polk in Louisiana and Joint Base Lewis McCord in Washington. According to the Army plan, women infantry and armor soldiers will be assigned to brigades at all bases in the continental United States by fall 2019.
Lawhorn said the expansion decision was based on feedback from commanders and officers in the units that have already been integrated.
"The goal of the deliberate phased integration is to set conditions for the successful integration of the junior women soldiers arriving from initial entry training," Lawhorn said, adding that the officers will begin arriving at the three bases this spring and summer.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December 2015 ordered the military services to open all combat jobs to women. Since then the Army has been cautiously moving forward to integrate the previously male-only infantry and armor units, developing officers first so that younger enlisted women would have mentors when they moved into the combat jobs.