U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set to end the military’s official ban on women in combat, a move that overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from serving in artillery, armor, infantry and other frontline roles.
The details of the new policy are still being worked out, but The New York Times reported Panetta’s decision comes as a result of a Jan. 9 letter from Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote that the armed service chiefs all agreed that “the time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”
The move comes as more and more women in the U.S. military find themselves in combat areas. More than 20,000 have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials say more than 800 women have been wounded in the two wars and more than 130 have died.
The Associated Press also reported Wednesday Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.
Meanwhile, CNN reported Thursday that many of the women, who have served in combat areas, that it interviewed applaud the Pentagon’s decision.
“We have an all-volunteer force, and I think that this opens up a pool of folks who could serve in these positions,” said U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in 2004.
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