In a move that could have as dramatic an impact on the military as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell,” CNN and multiple news outlets are reporting that U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, is preparing to notify Congress as early as tomorrow of his intent to end the ban on women serving in U.S. military combat units.
According to the report, defense officials are saying that full integration will be phased in over time, to allow a more seamless transition. This is a natural reaction to such a sweeping policy change, as a variety of military units will now have to answer a number of significant personnel and logistics issues regarding the full incorporation of women.
Infantry units, in particular, will need to address a multitude of physical standards, ensuring that the new female combatants are fully qualified to serve in combat roles and capable of performing as well as their male peers — something many, many women have proved capable of over decades of service.
While there is still some room for specific units to be designated as male-only (following the upcoming Pentagon-ordered review), it appears the vast bulk of military units and occupations will now be opening up to America’s female service members. However, it’s possible to envision scenarios where top military brass would keep specific special forces units same-gender, for example, regardless of the politics of such a decision.
The move continues a trend of dramatic female inclusion across all branches of the military, including the Navy’s recent decision to allow women to serve on submarines. The arguments against women in combat have proven themselves incredibly antiquated over the past few American wars, with 130 or more female deaths and 800 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, even though they were serving in “non-combatant” roles. With modern warfare quickly evolving into a protracted, insurgent-heavy fight in nearly every arena, the idea of non-combatant roles for women has shown itself to be as outdated as the idea of discrimination against African Americans in World War II.
In addition, according to the New York Times, a lack of access to official “combat units” has been blamed for severely ham-stringing the careers of many female service members, as promotions and leadership roles in such units are often the most surefire ways to advance a military career. The ban has been routinely blamed for the incredible under-representation of females in the upper ranks of the military, where women make up just a fraction of the top leadership, compared to much larger overall representation in lower ranks.
With this announcement, Panetta will be undoing decades of gender discrimination in the military and finally, at long last, opening the doors for hundreds of thousands of women serving in uniform. As the head of an institution that prides itself on professionalism and merit-based opportunity, the end of this ban, along with the death of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is a major step in the right direction, fulfilling the promise America makes to each citizen who feels the call to serve, no matter their gender.