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Senator Gillibrand issues response following Defense Secretary Mattis' controversial comments about female service members


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following comments by Defense Secretary James N. Mattis that "the jury is out" on whether women can be successful in military combat roles, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote a letter to Secretary Mattis outlining the Defense Department's own hard-fought progress in opening all combat roles to women and urging him not to stand in the way of continued integration. Secretary Mattis made the comments during a question-and-answer session following a speech at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Gillibrand and Blumenthal's letter was signed by Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

"In response to a question from a VMI cadet regarding whether women in combat occupations makes us more combat effective, you asked: 'Is it a strength or a weakness to have women in that circumstance [the close quarters fight]?'  This question fuels the perception that women have not yet demonstrated their value and strength on the battlefield, despite the reality that women have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 17 years after successfully surmounting the same rigorous training standards as their male counterparts," the Senators wrote to Secretary James Mattis. "Despite your assertions, women have assumed combat occupations since the founding of the United States–sometimes disguised as men to circumvent the barriers placed on their service–and have fought courageously alongside their male counterparts for centuries. As Secretary, it is your responsibility to exercise fairness toward all service members–regardless of gender–rather than perpetuate these false notions."

In 2015, the Department of Defense announced that it would begin working to integrate all combat roles in the United States Armed Forces. Since then, hundreds of women have passed the rigorous training and physical fitness standards required to serve, and have begun taking on combat roles across all branches of the military. Despite this progress, women still face barriers to full integration, including the antiquated and false notion expressed by Secretary Mattis that women who meet the military's standards are somehow less effective in combat.

Secretary Mattis had previously expressed doubt about whether women would be capable of serving in combat. In one speech, in 2014, he said that putting women in combat "is not setting them up for success." In another speech, in 2015, he said, "never has it worked" to integrate women in the military. At Mattis's confirmation hearing, Senator Gillibrand directly questioned him about his views related to women serving in the military; Mattis replied, under oath, that he had "no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military."

A copy of the Senators' letter may be found HERE.