Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Permitting Women in Combat Roles Was Long Battle

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Permitting Women in Combat Roles Was Long Battle

Article excerpt

Women have been fighting for the right to serve in combat positions for decades. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta handed them a sudden -- and nuanced -- victory on Thursday.

Mr. Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed a memo authorizing the change at the Pentagon. They said the change was prompted by the valiant efforts of women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of Thursday, 152 women had died and another 958 had been wounded. Many received awards for their service.

"If they can do the job, if they can meet the standards, if they can meet the qualifications that are involved here, there is no reason why they shouldn't have a chance," Mr. Panetta said. "That's just a fundamental belief of mine, and I think it's a fundamental belief of the American people."

Each branch of the military must supply the secretary of defense with a report, which will be presented in May, outlining how it will adapt to the lifting of the ban. The branches have until 2016 to apply to keep certain positions closed to women.

"The services will bear the responsibility for providing the thorough analysis needed to articulate what's best needed for the armed forces," Gen. Dempsey said when describing how the exemptions would work. "We all wear the same uniform, and we all fire the same weapon."

Service members, legislators and citizens have been debating for ages whether women should be allowed to serve in combat roles.

Proponents of the change argued that women were already serving in combat roles because the changing nature of warfare made traditional battle lines obsolete. No longer could women hide behind an arbitrary line. Improvised explosive devices were hidden virtually everywhere. Female Marines were needed to communicate with women in Iraq and Afghanistan and to search them for weapons because local cultural norms prevented men from interacting with them in the same ways.

Opponents argued largely that they were philosophically opposed to having women serve in combat roles, that they worried their presence would cause the military to lower its physical fitness standards or that the women wouldn't have privacy when working close to male soldiers.

"I did not think it would come in my lifetime," said Col. Sharon M. Johnson, who is stationed at Pope Air Field Base in North Carolina and worked for a time at the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon. "I was surprised and delighted, and I think now the hard work starts for everybody. You don't create a culture overnight."

Col. Johnson, who has extensively studied the combat exclusion policy, predicted that it could take five to 10 years for having women serving in combat positions to seem normal.

In a research paper she produced while working on her master's degree at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. …

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