Leon Panetta: Women Now (Officially) Allowed in Combat

Leon Panetta: Women Now (Officially) Allowed in Combat

Women will now be able to serve in combat—and be recognized for doing so. According to the Associated Press, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is lifting the ban on women in combat.

Panetta’s announcement seems to signal that he’s going out with a bang, as the Secretary of Defense is expected to step down soon. While the lifting of the ban of women serving in battle is momentous, it also seems a bit anti-climactic. After all, this is the year 2013, and women are not relegated to being Florence Nightingales or Rosie the Riveters.

Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/Zumapress.com

Earlier this month, the first female combat veterans -- Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) -- took their oaths of office to serve in Congress. Duckworth even has the battle scars to prove it—she lost both her legs when the Blackhawk helicopter she was flying was hit by a missile. Isn't that combat? Or is it not combat? Or just don't ask, don't tell?

Other enlisted women tell similar stories from the front lines. Today’s announcement was prompted by a lawsuit brought against the Department of Defense last November. That’s when the ACLU joined four servicewomen in filing suit against the military for policies which effectively discriminated against women in pay, rank and future opportunities.

Major Mary Jennings Hegar was one of the four servicewomen. On the ACLU blog, she writes a post titled “Women Warriors Are On the Battlefield: Eliminate Outdated Unfair Military Combat Exclusion Policy”:

”You would never have guessed that before our first flight my Aerial Gunner had to be ordered to fly with me over his objections to flying into combat with a woman. When I confronted him about it, he said that he didn’t think I could carry my weight in an evasion situation if we were to find ourselves shot down over enemy lines. He used the combat exclusion policy as substantiation for his prejudice, stating that if women were his equal then the Air Force would let them be Pararescuemen and Combat Controllers (two jobs closed to women then and now).”

So the lifting of the ban on women in combat is boils down to this: equal pay and equal opportunity. Jobs, jobs, jobs. This decision could open more than 230,000 military jobs for women.

Perhaps it’s also a cue from the Obama administration, on the heels of the President’s second inauguration speech Monday, in which he made bold promises to clear the way for opportunities for all Americans, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.

Here’s what people on Twitter are saying about women in combat:

As with many big political moves, Panetta’s decision needs to be approved by Congress within the next 30 days, and the military chiefs have until May 15 to come up with implementation plans.

It's about time women get recognized and paid fairly for the jobs they do -- on and off the battlefield.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.


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