The Pentagon on Wednesday said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is removing the ban on women in combat—a move that will allow them to serve in hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and elite commando jobs.
That’s a great step forward for equality.
But where, you might ask, are the front lines in Afghanistan? And where exactly were they after we had shocked and awed our way into Iraq? They’re anywhere a shadowy and elusive enemy happens to strike or happens to be detected—which means women have been on the military’s front lines for quite some time now.
The Pentagon has simply decided to march—with all deliberate speed—into a reality that has existed for nearly a decade.
Elizabeth Gill, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, put it this way in a recent interview with National Public Radio: ''Significant numbers of women have fought alongside their male counterparts in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and in fact are fighting in combat situations.” Yet they haven’t been recognized for their work.
The ACLU announced a lawsuit against Panetta last November claiming that the Pentagon wasn’t moving fast enough to lift official barriers to women in combat.
So now the Pentagon is stepping up the pace.
The combat exclusion creates a pervasive way of thinking in military and civilian populations that women can't serve in combat roles—despite the fact that women in all branches of the service are already fighting next to male counterparts,” said Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, a plaintiff in the suit and a helicopter pilot who was shot down in a rescue mission in Afghanistan.
Women "shoot, they return fire, they drag wounded comrades to safety and they engage with the enemy," she said, "and they have been doing this for years.”
Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women. It’s about time.