Washington Post — Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has decided to allow women to serve in combat roles, a watershed policy decision that follows years of calls for a fully inclusive military, defense officials said Wednesday.
Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, are expected to formally announce the change Thursday, the officials said. The Army, Marines and other services will then develop plans to open jobs in ground combat units, such as the infantry, to women.
The decision comes after a decade during which women — fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — have been pushed closer to the front lines than ever before. It also comes less than a year and half after the formal end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” which banned gay men and women from serving openly.
Panetta, who is expected to step down in coming days, has long said the Pentagon is exploring ways to open more career opportunities for women. The Pentagon announced in February that it would open about 14,000 combat-related positions to female troops. But an estimated 238,000 other positions — about one-fifth of the regular active-duty military — were kept off-limits to women.
Virtually all of those jobs are in the Army and Marine Corps.
Overall, women make up about 14 percent of the active-duty military. According to the Defense Department, 152 female troops have been killed in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
Female veteran groups say that even though the number of women who would pursue combat jobs might be small, having the option is a long overdue step that would bring the United States in line with several of its allies.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, issued a statement endorsing the move.
“I support it,” Levin said. “It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations.”
By Ernesto Londoño
Posted on January 23, 2013
Photo: PATRICK BAZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Washington Post | Pentagon to remove ban on women in combat