A female Marine goes through an obstacle course, one of the tasks of the combat endurance test.
(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
Less than a week after President Obama's second inauguration where he reaffirmed his commitment to equality for all, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military would be lifting the restriction on women in combat, which had been in place since 1994 (other restrictions on women serving in the military have been challenged over the decades). The ground combat exclusion policy of the US Army states:
Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.
Although many, many details still need to be clarified over the coming months and years (including whether or not women will be required to register for Selective Service, more commonly known as the draft), the removal of this policy more accurately reflects the nature of modern warfare. In both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have been serving in combat conditions, and 152 women have died in the wars. But because they are not considered to be in "combat roles," women have a significantly harder time advancing up the ranks, as combat experience is one of the factors considered in promotions.
Though I am generally opposed to sending anyone, male or female, into combat, I believe this will ultimately send a positive message to girls. I can't think of a better way to tell a girl that she can be or do anything than to show her than women are just as physically and mentally capable as men in an extremely difficult situation. Secretary Panetta has said, "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job--and let me be clear, we’re not talking about reducing the qualifications for a job--if they can meet the qualifications for the job then they should have the right to serve." By holding men and women to the same standards, the military will be judging people solely by their abilities and skills, not by their gender. And while there are roles that many women may be unable to meet physically, it is important to note that many men are unable to meet those standards as well. But now at least women will have the chance to attempt to fill those roles, instead of being restricted based only on their gender.
You can read one service woman's take on the policy changes here.
Girl Museum Inc.