Pentagon Expanding Roles for Women in Combat

The Pentagon leadership on Thursday announced plans to open more combat roles to women, an effort they said would remove any “unnecessary gender barriers” to service members who have fought valiantly in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade. During a Jan. 24 press briefing, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey signed a memorandum rescinding the 1994 direct ground combat exclusion rule for women. “Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight, and, yes, die, to defend their fellow Americans,” said Panetta, who has directed each of the services to provide a detailed implementation plan by May (see below). Dempsey said he could envision a future where women serve in elite special forces roles now open only to male service members. He said the burden on each of the services now will be to demonstrate why a women should not serve in a particular specialty. “I don’t know how that’s going to play out, but I’m really eager to begin the journey,” said Dempsey. Today, females comprise 15 percent of the armed forces; 152 women in uniform have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted Panetta. (Panetta-Dempsey transcript)