The U.S. military announced on Wednesday that it will end its ban on women serving in front line combat positions. The decision overturns a 1994 Department of Defense policy that opened most military jobs to women, but still blocked them from combat artillery, armor and infantry roles. Many feel that the military is catching up with the times by knocking down another societal barrier in the U.S. armed forces, but others disagree with the move. Also, does this mean women will now be required to register for the draft? Here’s what you need to know about the decision to allow women to fight in combat.
1. The Decision Comes from the Top
The decision to lift the military ban on women serving in front line combat positions comes from U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It comes after 11 years of non-stop war that has seen 84 women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2. It Will Be Formally Announced on Thursday
Rep. Niki Tsongas, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said:
The announcement Secretary Panetta is expected to make tomorrow will put us on a path to giving women the same access to the protections and benefits afforded the men they serve alongside. It will finally acknowledge the reality of the current nature of war, where the lines between combat and support personnel are not clearly drawn. And, most importantly, it will help us build a stronger armed forces.
3. The Decision Will Open Hundreds of Thousands of Positions for Women
Somewhere around 19 percent of positions throughout the military remain closed to women due to the combat ban, but the repeal could open up hundreds of thousands of jobs.
4. It Will Take Time for the Plan to Go into Effect
The new policy will be implemented over the next three years, and military services have until May 15 to submit a plan for how they will comply with the new policy by 2016. Individual military services also have until 2016 to submit exemption requests if they believe any combat roles should remain closed to women.
5. It Knocks Down Another Societal Barrier in the U.S. Armed Forces
In 2011, the Pentagon lifted its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
6. Women Already Serve in Combat Roles in Some Other Developed Countries
Women already serve in combat roles for the armed forces of countries such as Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.
7. Many Feel The Military is Catching Up With the Times
Maj. Sue Lynch of Charlestown, Massachusetts, an active-duty Army lawyer, told the Boston Herald:
It’s been a long time coming. Especially given the role women have played in the last decade down in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. It’s all about, can we meet the same standards as men. If we can, that’s really what it should come down to.
Sen. John McCain also supports the move:
American women are already serving in harm’s way today all over the world and in every branch of our armed forces. As this new rule is implemented, it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world.
8. Others Feel Women Are Too Weak
Many others feel strongly that women simply don’t have the physical endurance to perform on the front lines.
Rep. Tom Cotton said recently:
To have women serving in infantry … could impair the mission essential task of those units, and that’s been proven in study after study. It’s nature — upper body strength and physical movements and speed and endurance and so forth.
Others even feel that allowing women to serve in combat positions will cause men to focus on protecting women soldiers and compromise decisions in the heat of battle.
9. Woman May Be Required to Register for the Draft
Will women now be required to register for the draft? Anne Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, says the answer is yes. The wars of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by an all-volunteer force, since the military discontinued the draft in 1973, but the law still requires men aged 18-25 to to register for Selective Service. However, according to Coughlin, in the event of an emergency that requires a draft, there will be no legal justification to limit the draft to men alone.
10. Women Represent 2 Percent of U.S. Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan
Despite the lift on the ban, combat roles are really nothing new for women. Two percent of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are represented by women. And 12 percent of the 300,000 women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 11 years were deployed in war efforts where the front lines were not clearly drawn. Women are already fighting and dying for their country. Now they’ll be recognized for it.