Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reportedly will announce today that the long-time ban against allowing female soldiers to participate in combat operations will be ended. The move is being made upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The decision would overturn a 1994 edict that barred women from participation in ground-combat units. It also recognizes the reality of what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the turmoil of terrorist-oriented wars has caused female soldiers operating in “combat support” roles to become involved in combat itself. In those chaotic situations, women have performed coolly, competently, and with valor — like the well-trained, capable soldiers they are.
The primary objections to women soldiers in combat have been that they could create a sexually charged atmosphere that might detract from performance of the mission and might not be physically capable, from a strength standpoint, of performing all tasks that could be necessary on a particular operation. The first excuse seems antiquated, and in any case can be addressed by proper training of soldiers of both sexes and attentive leadership. The answer to the second concern is easy — establish the physical capabilities that actually are needed and see whether individual women, as well as individual men, can meet them. If so, they should be permitted to participate. What is the point of arbitrarily excluding professional soldiers who want to serve and can do their duty?
I’m all for knocking down exclusionary barriers — particularly those that arose from outdated cultural and social mores. I’m glad we are discarding the lingering, Victorian era notions about the delicate conditions of women and giving them the opportunity to fully serve their country and pursue a military career, if that is their choice.