Women in the military have been in combat, and those who served with them have long known it. But a long-standing ban on women playing combat roles led to denials, and occasionally to problems with recognizing women soldiers with decorations they deserved. Now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will lift that ban.
This is not, by the way, some push by wild-eyed liberals in the Obama administration (doubtless a suspicion on the part of conservative ideologues). Rather, it comes by way of recognition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chairman of that group, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, wrote that “the time has come” to “eliminate all gender-based barriers to service.”
The action is not just about equal opportunity to serve in forward areas. Service in combat is a key to promotion in all branches of the military. Without the opportunity to serve in those roles, women are at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to advancing. And certainly it’s understandable that to be a top leader, combat experience would be expected.
North Carolina’s Sen. Kay Hagan said women now would “have more opportunities for career advancement.” Hagan is a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
It should be said that opportunity is a two-way street. By denying women the right to serve in combat, and thus in effect blocking the path to promotion, the military may well have been denying itself some outstanding leaders-in-waiting. Now, at last, they will not have to wait as long.