Right now, any US citizen between the ages of 17 and 39 who has a high school diploma or GED can begin the process of joining the air force. After physical and mental screenings, you will have basic training for eight weeks. This program is the tip of your education, teaching your mind and body to develop basic war skills and how to save your peer’s lives in combat. You can then graduate to Technical training, which is free because it is your job to learn so you can later join a branch of the force: Operations, Special Investigations, Support, etc.
There are numerous benefits to joining the Air Force. Your free technical training gives you knowledge that leads to promotions, you get paid vacation days, and you can choose your specialty area based on your skills and interest. Well, almost everyone can. There are several direct-combat positions that women have never been able to partake in. Deborah Lee James, the Air Force Secretary, recently went on the record to assure the American public that the Air Force is working to make all of their positions open to women by spring 2016. As of now there are seven positions in the air force that women are excluded from.
These are the male-only positions that will soon be able to count women among their ranks:
- Special Tactics Officer: The motto of Special Tactics is “First there, that others may live” which is fitting for an officer who leads special operations teams into enemy territory for personnel rescues and to guide air strikes.
- Pararescue: A Pararescue specialist is always on call, because it is their job to save wounded Airmen – whether that means parachuting, scuba diving, or taking a snow mobile to their injured personnel. A Pararescue specialist is responsible for keeping that person alive with the survival techniques and medical knowledge they have been taught.
- Tactical Air Control Party (TACP): TACP’s arrive on the battlefield to turn the tide into a victory with their artillery, air strikes, and firepower. It’s a good job for those who can operate the latest technology so that they can control communications as well.
- Combat Rescue Officer: Organize and conduct operations to recover their incapacitated peers from the front lines, as well as commanding and training the personnel who go with them to perform those missions.
- Combat Control Team: Double as certified air traffic controllers and need to be able to parachute, scuba, and use motorcycles and skis to get an overlay of the land so they can direct aircraft in possible assault zones.
- Special Operations Weather (Officer or Enlisted): Act as a sort of weatherman, collecting data from space to the ocean so that the Special Operations team can use that information in their decision-making before a mission.
Fighting Gender Discrimination
Seven exclusionary positions is actually a very low number compared to the Army, who opened 33,000 positions to female soldiers this year and still excludes them from certain positions, like being an infantryman. With over 200,000 women who are active in the military, only about 69 are generals and admirals. 62,000 of those women are in the Air Force, where they leave service mid-career twice as often as their male peers. If the reason behind their leaving is because they cannot ascend to the jobs they want, the new policy should help fix that. Part of Secretary James’s motivation in extending these career opportunities to the Air Force’s female members is to increase the force’s retention of servicewomen.
Opening these seven direct-combat related positions up to members of either gender in the Air Force means the requirements to apply for each job will have to be rewritten to include gender-neutral standards. The best candidates will still be chosen based on their abilities, but now women will have a fighting chance to be considered. Since it will take time to decide on the new skill level requirements for each job, the change is expected to be implemented in the next year and a half.