Senior defense officials stated Wednesday the Pentagon will lift the military’s ban on women in combat, thereby opening up thousands of front-line jobs to them. Not many details have been released at this time, but it is known that Panetta has implemented this change following a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The change will be formally announced Thursday.
The move will overturn a 1994 rule restricting women from numerous positions in both the infantry and artillery — a rule that has become increasingly anachronistic in the war on terror where the line of combat is far from clear cut. Hundreds of women have been injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many have died. The 1994 rule claimed both infantry and artillery “include physically demanding tasks that would exclude the vast majority of women,” although it’s hard to say what exactly this means.
For example, a relaxation of the ban occurred in February 2012, when the Pentagon announced that women would be permitted (formally, that is) on the front lines. The review came after the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, H.R. 6523 Sec. 535 (a), directed the Department of Defense to review the “laws, policies, and regulations restricting service of female members of the Armed Forces.” The Defense Department’s review opened up 13,000 positions after eliminating the “co-location exclusion” placed by the 1994 rule (i.e., eliminating the ban on women “co-locating” with ground combat units. For many, the steps taken in 2012 were minuscule and still weren’t enough to encourage women to remain in the military because their career trajectory remained limited. Other similar relaxations of the 1994 rule include the Navy allowing women to serve on submarines as well as the Marine’s Lioness program.
In other words, with the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the opening up of numerous roles for women on the front lines, Leon Panetta could be said to be going out with a bang. No need to look so sad anymore, Mr. Panetta.