Senior officials at the Pentagon today announced that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will remove the almost 20-year-old ban on women in the military serving in combat positions. The policy change could open thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite command jobs to women, according to the Associated Press.
Some combat positions could open as quickly as this year, although Panetta gave the armed services until January 2016 to identify special exemptions where women could still be barred from service.
Allyson Robinson, the executive director of OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, commended the outgoing secretary of defense, and pressured the administration to act swiftly. “Today, Secretary Panetta rightly acknowledged the service and sacrifice of so many brave women in our military and affirmed that being fit for combat has nothing to do with gender - just as it has nothing to do with sexual orientation. We thank the Secretary for his leadership in ending this antiquated exclusion and taking an important and historic step forward,” she said.
The policy was first instituted in 1994 and prohibited women from being assigned to small ground combat units. Today's decision follows an order last year that opened about 14,500 combat positions, mostly in the Army, reports the AP. According to the AP, women make up 14% of the 1.4 million Americans currently on active-duty in the armed forces.