The Pentagon is dropping the last vestiges of rules barring American women from serving in combat, paving the way for the largest expansion ever of their role on the front lines.And see Ryan Smith, "The Reality That Awaits Women in Combat."
Women in the military already are allowed to serve on most Navy ships, as combat pilots and in hundreds of support jobs, including those in war zones. But they have been historically excluded from direct combat roles, by federal law in earlier times and more recently by military policy.
That will change Thursday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rescinds the 1994 Pentagon policy that bans women, who now make up about 14% of active-duty military personnel, from combat. The new measure will allow women to serve in combat roles—but, importantly, allow the military services to establish exceptions.
The change is an acknowledgment that women on modern battlefields already are in the fight—152 women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan—and that military rules need to be updated to reflect realities of the current-day war zones. At the same time, the shift establishes a process that could take years to complete.
The new policy should allow women to serve alongside infantry troops as battlefield medics, special-operations pilots and in other dangerous roles, officials said. But officials are divided about whether women will ultimately serve as infantry troops or in elite special-operations units. Some military officials, citing the difficulty of completing infantry training courses, believe that most women would be unable to meet the physical requirements.
Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, who was injured in 2007 by a roadside bomb in Iraq, said in an interview Wednesday that the current ban on women in combat is "a legal fiction." She said women have long faced the same front-line dangers from militants and improvised explosive devises as men.
"Right before the IED went off, it didn't ask me how many push-ups or sit-ups I could do," said Ms. Hunt, one of the women who filed a lawsuit last year to challenge the ban. "Right now the women who are serving are being engaged in combat, so their physical restrictions aren't a barrier."
At the clip above, from a couple of weeks ago, is Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, an organization that opposes women serving in direct front-line combat.