Army tests whether women can make the cut in combat

FT. STEWART, Ga. -- As soon as 2016, women will be eligible for combat jobs. CBS News has obtained results of a survey by the U.S. Army which found 22 percent of enlisted women are interested.

Lt. Deborah Mesa CBS News
Lt. Deborah Mesa is part of a group of 60 women and 100 men taking part in a first-ever study testing just how fit a soldier has to be to engage in combat.

Mesa says she wanted to take part in the study because "a soldier isn't defined by gender -- a soldier is a soldier."

For one month, Mesa went through the rigors of a simulated battlefield. Scientists recorded her heart rate, endurance levels and exertion through medical monitors and computer programs.

In one simulation, scientists tested her ability to pull an injured soldier out of danger -- 105 pounds of weight through a tank hatch while wearing 70 pounds of combat gear.

Lt. Deborah Mesa pulls 105 pounds of weight through a tank hatch. CBS News
The Army will use the data it has collected to set new fitness standards for combat jobs, something the military has never done before, even for male soldiers.

"It's been about teamwork," Mesa says when asked how the men in the study have reacted. "Not whether it's a female soldier, not whether it's a male soldier -- it's whether a soldier can complete the task."

"We've known for a long time that these particular jobs are hard on the body, so this study focuses more on what the physical requirements are to do these jobs," says Col. Scott Jackson, a combat brigade commander.

Commanders acknowledge many women won't meet the new standards, but stricter testing will also disqualify some men from jobs they would have gotten automatically in the past.

Jackson says it could be a surprise for some men.

"Some people will not get what they want," he says.

"It's all a matter of the individual, whether it's male or female, what career path they want to take in the military," Mesa says, when asked about women who may question why other women would want combat jobs.

Asked what she's learned about herself by taking part in the study, she replies, "I can do it."

She may get her chance when combat positions open for women in 2016.