It's unknown when female soldiers may serve as Rangers, but the commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command said he believes that gender isn't going to be relevant in assignments in the very near future.
"We are just looking out at the future and saying that some day there are going to be knowledge, skills and attributes without respect to gender -- physical attributes, personal attributes," Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of TRADOC, said on Tuesday.
Cone was asked about women serving as Rangers during a question-and-answer session on the first full day of the 2012 Maneuver Conference at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. More than 1,000 soldiers filled the trade center as military leaders and experts from across the country focused on training, leader development, combat development and improving the effectiveness of the Maneuver Force.
As part of the Army 2020, Cone said the process is going through a high level of scientific review.
"If and when a decision is made, we need to have prepared to think through this process and be prepared to do what's right for the individual and for the unit," the general said.
Cone said the U.S. Army is facing an exciting time in human performance, and he was impressed during a visit to Israel to see every armored vehicle driven by women.
"Israel is an army that's in conflict, seen more than its share of conflict and successfully integrated in the gender realm," he said. "If and when a decision is made, it is my job to make sure an intellectual framework is established to help the Department of the Army make a critical decision."
Using lessons over the last 10 years of war, Cone said you may have a unit conducting an operation and realize it can't be done until they find a woman to perform a search.
"I'd rather set an institution up for success than to put somebody's daughter or son in that organization to do that on the fly," Cone said. "Physical events on the ground have led to our thinking on this."
Leaders from different branches of the Army spent most of the morning highlighting what has been learned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Training on improvised explosive devices and the counter IED course at Fort Benning made a difference for soldiers in Afghanistan, said Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, who serves at I Corps and the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
Troxell, who works for former Fort Benning commander Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, said news reports focus on Afghan attacks against soldiers but rarely explain how they are disrupting the enemy and building on its capacity to strength the government.
"The Afghan security forces are doing great things especially in the face of certain adversity," Troxell said.
The sergeant major said it remains to be seen what kind of capacity the U.S. will have in Afghanistan after Dec. 31, 2014.
"We will have counter-terrorist abilities there going after high value targets and have to have security forces that will continue to build that capacity in Afghan forces," he said.
Gen. H. R. McMaster, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, noted the importance of the conference when he welcomed soldiers Tuesday morning.
Fort Benning is home of the Infantry and Armor.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for us," McMaster said.
Throughout the halls in the trade center and outside the building, defense contractors set up displays with the latest technology in weapons and other military gear.
Ryan Vangel of Fort Belvoir, Va., displayed a small vest with sensors, the latest equipment to help detect soldiers' injuries after blasts in vehicles or while on foot patrol.
"If we are in an event together, I can't look at you and say you have traumatic brain injury," said Vangel of the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force. "They don't want soldiers to self-diagnose."
Vangel said 1,000 of the vests are used by soldiers and 42 are in vehicles in Afghanistan.
Data provided by the sensors will help determine how to treat soldiers better in the future.
"Long-term, they can get the care they need," Vangel said.
Outside the trade center, Raytheon unveiled its BattleGuard weapon system that's mounted on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Lee Stafki said the weapon can fire a number of machine guns or other weapons while the commander is safely inside the armored vehicle.
The Army will test the prototype during a Thursday demonstration at Fort Benning's Red Cloud range.
The conference resumes today at the trade center with group sessions and the Maneuver Dinner in the afternoon.