Who would have thought the United States Military would be leading the way in progressive social changes?
According to several news sources, the Defense Department announced on Tuesday that it is officially lifting the ban on women serving in combat. Leon Panetta, secretary of defense, made the announcement official the next day.
And it’s been a long time coming.
Sure, there are those who say women have no place in combat. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a veteran of two wars, said on Tuesday that combat roles are not built for women, because it goes against their “nature.”
“To have women serving in infantry, though,” said Cotton on a CBS radio show, “could impair the mission-essential tasks of units. And that’s been proven in study after study, just from a matter of — it’s nature, upper-body strength, and physical movements, and speed, and endurance, and so forth.”
Rick Santorum, recent Republican presidential candidate, for instance, said in February of last year that he has “concerns about women in front-line combat.”
“I think,” Santorum said, “that could be a very compromising situation where — where people naturally, you know, may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”
Is Mr. Santorum concerned that female military troops will suddenly be overcome with love and disrupt the chemistry of their units with flirty texts? Will they fight the urge to drop out of ranks and consume chocolate? To give birth in a bunker? To cry about the hairy desert spiders and look for some burly male soldier saviors to smash them?
Frankly, these ideas are outdated. Women have been serving in unofficial combat roles (and doing a good job of it) all over Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 130 women have lost their lives in these wars, and more than 800 women have been wounded.
Panetta’s order will also grant combat experience to women, which is generally a prerequisite for promotion into top military positions. Some sources are reporting as many as 200,000 more jobs (chiefly in the Army and Marines) being opened to women soldiers by this change. The Armed Forces, according to Panetta, have until May to write a plan for opening all units to women, and are expected to fully employ these plans by the end of 2015.
This motion to formally allow women on the battlefield comes just five months after the decision to repeal the archaic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibited military personnel from discriminating against closeted homosexual/bisexual service members, so long as those service members did not make their sexual orientation open.
Again, gay members of the military were told that being open would disrupt the chemistry of their units. Five months later, military members are allowed to be openly gay, and the consensus seems to be “well, sure. No problems here.”
Female military members will, of course, be required to meet the same physical requirements their male counterparts are expected to meet. Some units have physical demands that are especially grueling, and it is realistic to assume these units will continue to be predominantly male.
But at least, now, women can try.