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New York National Guard to allow women in combat units

According to reports, Pentagon Chief Leon Panetta has

According to reports, Pentagon Chief Leon Panetta has removed the ban on women serving combat roles. (Jan. 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The New York National Guard will begin admitting women to previously all-male combat units beginning this spring, according to spokesman Eric Durr.

The changes were announced Thursday afternoon, a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Pentagon will end its practice of excluding women from involvement in direct ground combat.

For the state National Guard, the placements will begin at the battalion headquarters level, rather than in-line positions, meaning the changes will not immediately place female Guard troops in roles designated for combat.

Several current and former soldiers welcomed the expansion of female roles.

Some made the point that women have routinely been involved in combat while serving in noncombat roles as convoy drivers or turret gunners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The fact is, women have been serving in combat for the past 10 years," said Capt. Keith Grant, 40, of Long Beach. Grant, who served in Iraq as a scout platoon leader with the 1st Cavalry Division in 2007, and recently served with the Tennessee National Guard, said the U.S. military police unit he worked closely with in Iraq included several women.

He and others mentioned Leigh Ann Hester, who received the Silver Star in 2005 after killing three insurgents while repelling an attack on her convoy outside Baghdad.

But some members of New York's Fighting 69th National Guard, which has an armory in Farmingdale, expressed reservations about the possibility that they would be asked to share the rigors of combat with female colleagues. None would allow their names to be used.

They said the physical demand's of infantry combat, which often involves quickly traveling long distances on foot while carrying heavy equipment, can be overwhelming. In overturning the ban, Defense officials said female soldiers are already doing the tough tasks. Female soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Currently, Department of Defense regulations effectively bar women from serving in infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers and special operations forces below the level of combat brigades, fighting units of roughly 3,500 troops.

But some female soldiers have objected to the ban, saying personnel who do not serve in combat units find it more difficult to win promotion to the highest commands.

The New York National Guard has 1,657 women among its 10,009 members. Of those women, 590 have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 26 hold the Combat Action Badge, meaning they have encountered enemy fire or been stationed in combat zones.

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