K.C. Star: Women in combat
This editorial first appeared in Friday's Kansas City Star.
People in politics often speak of "an idea whose time has come," and so it was with the Pentagon decision this week to lift the 1994 Defense Department restriction on women in direct combat.
The rule had already slid into obsolescence somewhat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where zones of combat and zones of safety could not be clearly delineated.
Women in jobs such as military police found themselves embroiled in fights just as any infantry unit. In those wars, more than 20,000 women served, with 130 killed in action and an additional 800 wounded.
The impetus for the change came from within the military itself. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban after a letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded that "the time had come to rescind the direct combat exclusion role for women."
The change won't automatically open up all military jobs for women. Rather, it shifts the presumption and expands opportunities for women to advance their military careers.
Panetta said each service branch would decide which jobs should be closed to women and provide support for that decision. Jobs will be considered open, not closed, unless otherwise designated.
The Army and Marine Corps might still argue that women shouldn't be part of some rifle companies or special operations teams. Maintaining combat effectiveness must remain the overriding priority.
About 75 percent of military jobs are already open to women, and the change has generally been handled well.
The latest move represents another important step toward fairness and equality.