The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


January 30, 2013

Women earn shot at combat

Pentagon lifts barriers to female soldiers

— Qualified women in our nation’s military finally are about to gear up for ground combat.

The U.S. Defense Department last week pulled the trigger on this debate, ending a ban on an issue that has brewed in Washington and on battlefields for far too long.

For women in the military, it’s not about equal rights. It’s a matter of having proven that they have earned the chance by fighting in conflicts that lack clear front lines.

“Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

“Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance.”

We absolutely agree.

Why has it taken so long?

Some officers opposed to the change have argued that infantry units require serious upper body strength. They further have warned that difficult physical tests might be relaxed for female recruits.

That should never be allowed to happen, and we don’t see a need for it to happen.

Women in sports have long demonstrated the strength, coordination and will to compete at a high level in physically demanding activities.

Not all will be able to pass the rigid endurance requirements for ground combat, and those who don’t obviously should be withheld – the same as their unproven male counterparts.

With last week’s action, the Pentagon finally is knocking down one of the last barriers to women serving in combat. Here’s some of what has transpired:

* In 1991, Congress ended a ban on women flying combat aircraft, and three years later the Air Force had its first woman commanding a fighter squadron. Women may fly every aircraft in the Air Force inventory, including bombers. They also fly combat aircraft in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The only Air Force jobs closed to women until now were special operations roles such as enlisted pararescue and combat control officer. These jobs were opened by Panetta’s order.

* The Navy in April 2010 opened submarine service to women, but only aboard the larger ballistic missile and guided-missile subs, where berthing is less of a privacy problem than on attack subs. Last week, the Navy announced it is extending that to include attack subs; female officers will begin reporting for assignment on those subs in 2015.

* Thursday’s decision means that about 35,000 Marine infantry slots would be opened to women, as long as they can meet the qualifications. Women until now have been excluded from jobs such as field artillery, forward air controller and combat engineer. 

Many Western, developed countries have women on their front-line forces. But outside of the West, it’s rare.

In Europe, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Sweden allow women in front-line combat positions. Others allowing it are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Eritrea, Israel and North Korea.

Countries besides the United States that allow women in positions such as fighter pilots are Pakistan, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Women make up about 14.5 percent of the active duty U.S. military, or about 204,000 service members. And 152 female troops have lost their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are proud of their service to our country and gratified that our leaders have finally removed this barrier to what women legitimately have earned.

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