No narrow tailoring, thanks: Ash Carter makes his announcement, December 3. (Credit: Newscom)

 When Ash Carter stood at the podium on December 3 to reveal the most profound social change in military policy in at least a half-century, he stood alone. Absent from the defense secretary’s announcement that all ground combat jobs were to be opened to women were the uniformed service chiefs and their civilian service secretaries, and especially conspicuous by his nonattendance was General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Carter’s military counterpart.

In one respect, Carter’s solitude might seem strange. As he pointed out in his remarks, opening all jobs to women “was the recommendation of the secretary of the Army, the secretary of the Air Force, and the secretary of the Navy, as well as the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of staff of the Air Force, the chief of naval operations, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.” This certainly sounds impressive, until you realize that the Air Force and the Navy had exceedingly little skin in this game. The same applied, perhaps counter-intuitively, to the Special Operations Command, which has such high physical standards for its personnel that the decision will likely have little effect on it, barring a campaign for dramatically lower entry requirements.

Continuing through the list, the service secretaries for the Army and the Navy are, by definition, civilian appointees of the Obama administration. And neither the current acting secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, nor his recent predecessor, John McHugh, has ever spent a day in a military uniform, let alone time carrying a rifle and pack in combat—something that also applies to Carter. The secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, served two years as a naval surface warfare officer in the ’70s. These men have legal authority but zero relevant experience on this issue. Continue reading