Pentagon okays much-awaited change to let women participate in combat

Pentagon okays much-awaited change to let women participate in combat

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is going to reverse a 1994 rule that forbids women from being assigned to small ground-combat units. The much-awaited policy change which is expected to be announced on Thursday will open thousands of military roles to women.

Panetta’s decision could make more than 230,000 combat roles available to women, many in infantry units.

Lawmakers and female veterans have taken the news with enthusiasm.

“This is monumental,” said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network “Every time equality is recognized and meritocracy is enforced, it helps everyone, and it will help professionalize the force.”

Those who oppose the opening of combat positions to females say that the policy change could create to a distracting, sexually charged atmosphere in the force and that women are unable to perform some of the more physically demanding jobs.

Pentagon made a concession of the type a year ago, when it opened more than 14,500 military roles that had been off limits to women before.

Last November four military women launched a lawsuit against Panetta’s department maintaining that the ban is unconstitutional. One of the plaintiffs, Marine Corps Capt Zoe Bedell, said back then the restriction had hindered her advancement in the Marines due to lack of necessary experience.

Military leaders will be able to argue Panetta’s decision and insist on specific posts to remain closed to women until 2016.

Women account for 14% of America’s 1.4 million active military personnel.