Women in Combat and Transgender Service Member Reform 'Makes Sense' Moving Forward, Carter Says

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said policies that opened up combat roles to women and allowed transgender members of the military to serve openly are progress that "makes sense."

En route to Twentynine Palms in California on Monday, Carter was asked during a media availability whether the Pentagon is concerned that reforms made during his tenure would be rolled back in the upcoming year under new leadership.

Since January, when the opening of all positions to women began, hundreds of women have indicated an interest in serving in the infantry, artillery and armor career fields, according to the Military Times, and "dozens are in the pipeline for assignment to operational units next year," largely with the Army. Ten women graduated from the first integrated Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course.

Carter reiterated his stance that opening all roles to women is necessary for the strongest, most talented all-volunteer force.

"Females are half of our population. And so -- and we're an all-volunteer force. And so we recruit from the population and it makes sense for us to recruit people from as wide a part of the population as possible," Carter told reporters. "Now, they have to be qualified. But it's a benefit to our military to be able to draw from what is a competitive -- we compete with companies and the whole rest of the economy for good people."

"So we want to have the ability to have access to the best people we can. What matters is the qualifications of people who serve in our military. And I think that's a logic that is -- I mean, that's sort of the logic of our all-volunteer force is that we get to pick. That's why our people are so driven. But to have the very best to pick from, we have to pick from the entire population."

There has been disagreement within the services about the implementation of the new rules, specifically from Marine Corps leaders.

Carter, though, said the services "have done an excellent job and put together implantation plans that they have made this transition very smoothly, very professionally, and to the great benefit of the force."

"So it has gone extremely well," he said. "And it's a good thing for the force of the future."

In June, Carter announced new transgender service rules with a yearlong implementation period. A person wanting to join the military must be "stable" in their new gender for at least a year and a half. Existing service members deemed to be transgender by their doctors will be able to fully transition through the military healthcare system. After legally transitioning to a new gender, then a service member would wear the corresponding uniforms, use the corresponding housing and have to meet that gender's fitness standards.

The Defense secretary said Monday that "what matters is whether somebody is qualified to contribute to our military."

"That's the central thing. That we have to really focus on because it's our people who make us the best. And the way we run our military... we have to pick them from the widest possible portion of the population, the talent of our country as possible," Carter said. "What matters is the talent, the ability to serve."

Donald Trump's transition team may be visiting the Pentagon later this week.

"We're very prepared for it. I don't know when they'll come. That's entirely up to them. But we're ready to go. And, you know, we've done this now a number of times over the course my own career, I've witnessed it a number of times," Carter said. "So there's a fairly well-understood template. But the mission on our side is very clear. It's what I said this morning, which is we'll try to help them to get all the information and the perspective that will help them to hit the ground running. That's our objective."

"And as I said, there will -- we have a lot of experience in that. We have a lot of people who have done this before, you know, know how to do these things. So we're ready to go. And they'll arrive when they're ready to arrive. But we'll be ready for them when they do."