A groundbreaking move was made on Wednesday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that women would no longer be excluded from combat jobs in the military. The decision comes after four servicewomen and the ACLU brought a suit against the Pentagon over the policy, calling it unfair and outdated.
While the removal of the exclusion will open up over 200,000 jobs previously closed to women, there will still be some restrictions that may prevent women from taking up certain designations. Unlike the removal of the anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which took immediate effect, the integration of women into combat roles will occur over time and after periods of assessments and evaluations to determine what those restrictions will be.
It may seem unusual to some that putting women in harm’s way would be considered progress in the feminist movement, but the lifting of the ban is certainly a step in the right direction, especially for the thousands of women who have already been serving in combat positions.
Wait, what? Women are already serving in combat positions? Absolutely. The Air Force and the Navy welcomed the first female fighter pilots back in the early ’90s. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour flew an attack helicopter for the Marines almost a decade ago. Col. Jeannie Leavitt of the United States Air Force began flying F-15s in 1993 and recently became the first female Wing Commander. Over 250,000 women have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 800 of them were wounded and approximately 130 were killed. “Women in combat” has been happening for quite some time.
So what’s the difference? Reward. Recognition. Promotion. None of these were available to women under the ban. At least not in the same way that they were available to men. Women were denied the technical designations that would have entitled them to promotions into leadership positions and the benefits that go along with those. As Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a statement posted on the ACLU website, “…qualified women will have the same chance to distinguish themselves in combat as their brothers-in-arms, which they actually already have been doing with valor and distinction.”
In other words, we’ve come a long way since the days of Rosie the Riveter, ladies. Now if they’ll just do something about their sexual assault problem…