Military takes another giant step toward equality for women

Posted Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The front lines of battle became quite blurry during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, in which the heart of combat was as likely to be found on patrol on an urban street or in a village marketplace as on a remote battlefield.

Female military personnel who have been deployed in those conflicts have often been in as much danger as their male comrades. Of the almost 300,000 women who have served in those wars, more than 140 have died and more than 1,000 have been wounded.

Their assignments might have been designated as support, but it's hard to deny that they were in combat roles.

It makes sense that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, acting on a recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced Thursday that the military is ending the official ban on women in front-line combat roles that's been in place since 1994.

With about 200,000 women in the active-duty military, the change could open new opportunities for female service members in a system where combat jobs are considered career advancers.

A suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last year cited the story of a female Air National Guard helicopter pilot who was shot down in Afghanistan, was wounded and returned fire but was denied combat leadership positions because her experience was not considered "combat," according to The New York Times.

Although the military has taken another big step toward equality within its ranks, implementation of the new policy will be gradual. The various service branches will be required to offer implementation plans by May 15 but will have until January 2016 to decide how to carry them out.

An exception from the defense secretary will be required for any branch to designate a specific job inappropriate for assignment to a woman.

One argument against putting women in combat was also used against letting them integrate fire and police departments: that they aren't as strong as men and might endanger fellow troops.

But individuals who can perform a job should be given the opportunity; those who can't shouldn't. And that goes for both men and women.

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