Just to be clear, it's been a decade or more since I've gotten angry emails from civilian macho-men incensed at the idea that women could and should be allowed to take on combat roles in the armed forces. Many of the military women I know have been agitating for decades for the opportunity to compete for those jobs.
Still, it's heartening to see that SecDef Panetta, as one of his last (and major) acts in office, should take the step of lifting the Pentagon's combat exclusion rule that has long barred women from serving in combat arms units, where the adventure, challenge and opportunity for career advancement are at a peak. (The official announcement is expected Thursday morning.)
Not that women weren't already in the fight. In January 2002 I watched a handful of tough Afghan warriors snigger and elbow each other when a young female PFC climbed into the turret of her gun truck and settled in behind her .50-cal. As a U.S. Army MP, she was allowed to deploy ... and worked combat patrols. The Afghans' sniggering stopped when she loosed off a few rounds at a wrecked Russian tank in the distance, hitting that practice target dead-on with casual panache. At the time I was bunking with the MP platoon in a drafty 20-person coed tent. When I asked one young female sergeant if it bothered her to be changing clothes with the guys, she shrugged. "They know what I got, I know what they got," she said.
End of story.
More recently I was with a Marine company in Afghanistan taking fire from a wood line; an air strike was called and an attack helicopter showed up -- piloted, our FAC announced with delight, by a female. She silenced the enemy with a barrage of rockets, followed by cheers and fist-pumps by the Marines. No question in their minds either.
I'm sure we'll be hearing again from Phyllis Schlafly, who's made a career of opposing the "radical Feminists" who are "pushing women into military combat."
But I think this is a done deal. Finally. And a salute to all those who volunteer.