On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made a groundbreaking change: He approved a lift on the ban that prevented women from serving in combat roles for the U.S. military, thus reversing the 1994 Pentagon decision.
Of course, this is not to say that women haven’t been in combat, as more than 20,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of last year, more than 800 women had been wounded in those two countries, according to The New York Times.
So, what makes this policy change so exceptional? For one, it officially opens up thousands of military jobs to women. This comes as somewhat of a surprise to certain members of the White House, but the policy apparently has bipartisan support — which means that no one in Congress should have reason to try to block the new military personnel policy.
Many greeted the policy change with open arms, saying it was about time to stop such gender discrimination. Not only was it seen as a good move from a societal standpoint, but it also allows the U.S. military to now field the best of the best in these positions — and not just search for the best male candidate.
The Pentagon is allowing the branches of the military until January 2016 to initiate the changes. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in a letter that this action ensures women “are given the opportunity to succeed.” The pathway to career advancement in the military very often starts with infantry, and since women have not been allowed to enter the ranks, it has been seen as a career-stopper.
It appears that a great deal of support from both sides of the political spectrum exists for this new measure. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, confirmed she was in favor of the policy change as it “reflects the increasing role that female service members play in securing our country.”
Likewise, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, heralded the change, calling it “a proud day for our country” as it recognizes “the brave women who are already fighting and dying.”
Meanwhile, some are apprehensive about the change. Jerry Boykin, a retired three-star general, appeared leery about the policy, and in particular about women’s participation in the U.S. Army Special Forces, where “living conditions are primal in many situations, with no privacy for personal hygiene or normal functions.”
Regardless of what apprehension that detractors may have, it appears this policy will go through and be fully implemented by the U.S. military by January 2016. Overall, this is a good move. Women have been fighting for equality for the better part of the last century, and this is a huge step. It’s really saying that a woman can do anything a man can do.
The argument made that women may not be able to handle the rigors of certain military positions is frankly lacking. Sure, maybe certain situations require sacrifices, and there may indeed be a moment where these women will be in peril, but that is the nature of life in the military.
I am quite certain that when women enlist in the military, they are aware of the risks that may present themselves during their service. Once more, for the women who are appointed into special positions, such as the U.S. Army Special Forces, they are there because officials feel they are fit for the duty. I’m sure these women clearly understand all the risks that the position may entail.
In the end, I do not think anybody should be able to take away these opportunities from women just because they may be seen as more fragile. In all all honesty, that is an outdated view. What it comes down to is that all willing and able Americans should be allowed to protect America and be all that they can be — regardless of gender.