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Female soldiers on an Army vehicle More than 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Department of Defense)

Women in Combat

The U.S. military will now allow female service members to fight in direct combat

By Jennifer Marino Walters | February 7 , 2013
<p>Until now, women have only been serving in combat unofficially. (Stephanie Sinclair)</p>

Until now, women have only been serving in combat unofficially. (Stephanie Sinclair)

More than 200,000 women currently serve in the U.S. military. They make up about 15 percent of all service members. Until recently, women were barred from officially serving in combat units. Combat units engage directly in battle during an armed conflict.

That all changed on January 24, when the Department of Defense ended the policy that excluded women from serving in direct-combat positions.

“Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield . . . and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

About 237,000 positions that have been closed to women could now be open to them under the new policy. Women would need to meet the same standards as men to get those jobs. Some positions may remain exceptions to the rule if a thorough analysis by the military finds that women cannot meet the requirements for those jobs.

SUPPORT FOR THE CHANGE

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that opening combat units to women will strengthen the military. President Barack Obama agrees.

“This milestone reflects . . . the indispensible role of women in today’s military,” Obama says. “Every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger with our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love.”

Public opinion polls show that Americans generally agree with allowing women into combat units. Recent polls by CBS News and the Pew Research Center, for example, showed that two thirds (66 percent) of Americans support ending the ban.

EQUAL ROLES

Dempsey and Panetta said the new policy reflects the realities of female soldiers’ changing roles over the past decade. More than 280,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 150 have died.

Many of those women have served in combat unofficially. They’ve patrolled dangerous areas as military police, served as machine gunners atop military vehicles, searched Iraqi and Afghan women for weapons, and more.

New jobs will be opened gradually to women throughout the next few years. The entire process is expected to be complete by January 1, 2016.

“Everyone, men and women alike . . . is committed to doing the job,” says Panetta. “They’re fighting and they’re dying together. And the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.”

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