On Wednesday, it was reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would lift the 1994 ban on women serving in combat. This decision has been approved by President Obama, and does not need further approval by Congress. Theoretically, however, Congress could try to pass legislation preventing this change in the 30-day period before it takes effect, though The New York Times called this possibility “highly unlikely.”
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The ban’s lift will allow women to serve in hundreds of thousands of jobs in infantry and armor that were formerly restricted to men. The change also reflects the reality of war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, which often put women in the line of fire—even though their official roles didn’t acknowledge this danger. More than 20,000 women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq; 800 have been wounded, and over 130 have died, comprising 2.26% of the total number of deaths in these wars.
By formally permitting women to serve in combat positions, female service-members will be able to earn the combat credentials necessary for promotions to the higher echelons of the armed forces. Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel, told Time, “I came under fire. I carried a weapon. I earned three different combat patches from Somalia and Iraq. It seemed a farce to proclaim that we were not.”
Secretary Panetta had first implied that he was open to lifting the ban last year, when he said, “We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so.” Given that the armed forces are made up solely of volunteers (rather than drafted citizens), it seems like a wise move to make positions open to as many people as possible. The next step, suggests one husband-and-wife Marine couple, is to make sure that requirements are based on the actualities of the jobs available, rather than height and weight requirements that might exclude otherwise-qualified applicants.