The U.S. military is keeping its plans for integrating women into combat units under wraps as the deadline passed Wednesday for the services to forward their programs to Pentagon brass.
In January, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles -- such as armor, infantry or in special operations -- after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense in November. Each service branch had until May 15 to develop a plan for how they would open those jobs to women, and must complete that task by January 2016.
All service branches met the deadline, a spokesman said Wednesday, beginning the initial review process for Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and his staff.
The plans must also include specific rationale behind any position that will remain off limits to women.
This comes at a complicated time for the Pentagon, which has witnessed two investigations in as many weeks regarding sexual impropriety by senior sexual assault prevention service members.
"We expect the Women in Service Implementation [Plan] to be implemented in time," Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday. "The problem of sexual assault is the big issue, so we need to work both in parallel."
There is no causal link between the two issues, he said, adding that sexual assaults against men is as significant an issue as it is for women.
One advocacy group for women in combat believes a higher prevalence of women throughout the military will improve standards across the board.
"It will only get better the more women are a part of the mix and not an oddity," says Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project.
"It normalizes having women there so they are not the odd one out," she says. "When any group is not a token member, but is viewed as a part of the whole, then I think that reduces all kinds of stereotypes and mistreatment of that group."
Allowing women entrance into all positions will transform the military for the better, she says.
Women have been serving in combat in Afghanistan for years. Marine Corps Female Engagement Teams routinely patrol with infantry squads to work around local societal norms that ban men from interacting with women.
The suit is still pending against the Pentagon. Department of Justice lawyers, who defend the Pentagon, asked for an extension in responding to the suit until each service branch could draw up plans for integration.
That deadline ends three weeks after May 15.
"The military needs to move as expeditiously as possible. There should be no foot-dragging," Lapidus says.
"Women should be allowed to compete, just as men compete, in all positions in all fields," she adds. "Anyone who can meet the requirements should be able to have that position."
If a woman is capable, she should be able to serve her country to the best of her ability, Lapidus adds.