Much has been said about President Obama's inauguration address possibly signaling an era of the bold, positive change so many expected from him. Today, a monumental move has been made, which shows that is exactly what is happening.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has officially lifted the Pentagon ban on women in combat.
It's impossible to put into words how important that is to me, as someone who served twice in Iraq, with women who were already serving ably in combat, even though the Pentagon didn't officially recognize that, at the time. The wars we're fighting are a 360-degree battlefield. There are no real "front lines" anymore. Any time a Soldier or Marine goes outside the wire, they're in a combat role, whether we say so or not.
Additionally, we've actively attached women to combat units, right now. In Afghanistan, as part of the counter-insurgency strategy, women have gone out alongside their male counterparts so certain things can be respectfully done -- like making sure Afghan women in any given area are not a threat, and speaking to women to get intelligence information. Those men and women are serving side-by-side, with absolutely no issues of tension between the genders. Our troops are professional and do their jobs -- men and women, alike.
Thus far, women have shown that they are just as capable as men in their combat role. And they're willing to make the same sacrifices. For me, when I first got to Iraq, my very first convoy was attacked, and it was a woman who suppressed the enemy. There are a lot of women like that.
There are about 140 women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, so far. Most of those were deaths on the roads - as a part of convoys, one of the most dangerous jobs in these wars, for example. Those women put their lives on the line for America. Female soldiers have been taken hostage -- from Jessica Lynch to Shoshana Johnson.
For those who worry about putting men and women together, and whether that will lead to a boom of improper relationships, the answer is no. The military already has laws on the books that prohibit relationships that could cause problems, like an officer and his or her subordinate. And the military enforces those rules very harshly. Look no further than the Court Martial of Brigadier General Jeffery Sinclair. In fact, of the 18 generals and admirals who lost their jobs in recent years, 10 were because of sex-related offenses. So, the military shows no mercy when it comes to this issue, and the men and women of our military are professional and abide by the law.
If women didn't prove themselves as combat troops every single day, if there was going to be some kind of problem I thought could arise from lifting the ban, I'd be the first to say that maybe we shouldn't let women take on new combat roles. But they are proving themselves, and there are no issues of significance.
Now, we will not only officially recognize that they are already in combat, but indeed lift artificial barriers that keep qualified individual women from being promoted to and serving in roles that they may very well not just do ably - but superbly.
That's good for our military, it's good for our country and it is long overdue.
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