Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced today that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on women in combat–finally allowing female soldiers to enter front-line positions, just like men. The number of women who pursue front-line jobs may still remain small, especially by comparison to the number of men. But the option is one that many believe is overdue, and one that will likely be hotly debated as military service group determine how to implement women’s roles in their ranks.
The move, recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule that bans women from serving in small ground combat units. While some front-line positions may open to women as soon as this year, Panetta’s ruling won’t place women in instant combat. According to defense officials, military chiefs must report back to Panetta by May 15 of this year with service implementation plans. Once they do get the ball rolling, this could open over 200,000 military jobs to women, following on their decision last year to open 14,500 combat positions to women.
Just a couple of weeks ago, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton opined that women’s “nature” could impair missions if they were to be allowed to serve in combat. And even some female soldiers themselves have questioned whether women are “created equal” for military combat.
But today, women’s veteran groups are lauding the decisions, and voices other than Cotton’s are piping up with their support. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, issued a statement endorsing Panetta’s lift on the ban: “It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations.”
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