Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will announce Thursday that the Defense Department will lift its long-standing ban on female ground combat troops. This watershed policy change comes out of the frustrations on behalf of service women in the last few years who have, despite their acts of bravery and the quality of their work, have hit glass ceilings and been unable to get promoted to their positions of choice.
Lifting the ban marks the first time in U.S. history that the military is fully inclusive. On top of that, it opens up around 238,000 ground combat positions that were previously off limits for women, who make up about 14 percent of the armed forces.
Due to the ambiguity of front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, many women have found themselves caught in direct combat situations — and have excelled in those roles, according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other military representatives. It only makes sense to allow the most capable infantry persons to serve in the posts they have earned.
“This is monumental,” said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network to the Washington Post. “Every time equality is recognized and meritocracy is enforced, it helps everyone, and it will help professionalize the force.”
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Critics of this policy change have complained that women serving on the front lines would only promote a sexually charged atmosphere, and that many will not be physically able to perform all tasks involved.
Compared to exclusion, compared to the glass ceiling, and compared to subjugation previously perpetuated by the ban, allowing women to serve in posts they have earned represents, at its core, the heart of the American work ethic.
This policy — which mirrors much of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule — is beyond outdated. It is about time Panetta is recognizing the ban for what it was: discrimination.