Women in Combat

Women’s rolls in the military have grown significantly since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (photo credit: Politico.com)

24 January 2013 will go down in history as the day the military removed last major barrier to gender equality in the US Armed Forces. Today, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is to announce the lifting of the Pentagon’s 1994 ‘No women in combat” ban.

What does this mean? 

This means that as soon as Panetta makes his historic announcement* more than 230,000 combat jobs will become available to over 241,000 of America’s service women. It also means women serving in the Army and in the Marines (two branches that have long resisted placing women in combat) will soon and for the first time be assigned to combat roles.

Historically Speaking

In the past all branches of the US Armed Service resisted a move of women to combat units citing that women lacked the agility and strength to perform under high stress combat conditions. Yet, the Joint Chiefs, including chairman General Martin Dempsey, support ending the ban.

Over the last decade, opposition to women in combat has eased. With the number of women in the armed forces growing, the lack of clear cut front lines, and unconventional fighting in war zones, it is generally believed that women are put in just as much danger as their male counter parts. Not to mention, due to a demand for troops, women have been showing up on front lines in support roles (drivers, medics, and mechanics) when their units become attached to combat battalions.

With that in mind, Panetta made easing restrictions on women in the military a major priority. In 2012, he pushed for 14,000 combat support jobs to be opened to women. Today’s announcement, with the Joint Chiefs blessing, will be one more step in that direction.

Panetta, prior to stepping down in the next few weeks, will direct the chiefs of all 5 branches of the military in integrating female service members to combat units by 2016.

The Reaction

Immediate reaction to lifting the bad has been mixed.

SOME OBJECT 

For some women are still seen as less capable than their male counter parts.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told the LA Times that “Women do not have an equal opportunity to survive or help fellow soldiers survive in direct ground combat.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, thinks lifting the ban is a political stunt. He told the LA Times that Panetta needed to explain “how this decision … increases combat effectiveness rather than being a move done for political purposes — which is what this looks like.”

OTHERS SEE IT AS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Susan Farrell, a DOD advisory committee member that recommended opening more jobs to women, praised the decision. She told the LA Times that it was “a chance for women to sink or swim on their own merits. That’s all women have ever asked for: a chance to be as patriotic, as giving of themselves, as the men are.”

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Veronica “Ronne” Froman, the first woman to command Navy Region Southwest in San Diego, told the LA Times that she was overjoyed. She said,”This has been what we’ve been working for for a long time.”

Retired US Navy Captain Lory Manning, agreeing with Panetta’s decision, told the LA Times, “The American public is ready to accept a greater number of female casualties in wartime. Everyone expected a hue and cry when women started getting killed in combat, and it hasn’t happened.”

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a veteran himself, got in on the action. He took his support to twitter. McCain tweeted: “I respect and support Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat.”

*After the announcement congress has 1 month to review lifting of the ban. In theory they could block the decision, yet officials believe congress will do nothing.

What do you think? Should women be allowed to serve in combat?

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