On women in combat

The Pentagon's decision to permit women in combat is drawing strong reactions from advocates and critics, with few conflicted voices stepping to the fore. For something involving the capability, safety and efficacy of our armed forces, this is surprising.

Most importantly, this decision has not come suddenly, not out of the blue. It was reached collectively, because commanders were convinced – by further integration of women throughout the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this last decade — that they are fit for some combat operations. Though it is historic, because it makes the military more inclusive, it has come after decades in which many women have not only served and been held back from promotion, but have died as well.

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It is not expected that many women will likely seek combat assignments, however, and only those who meet the stringent requirements for combat will be selected. It is not a push for women to serve in combat, it is an opportunity for those who seek it to serve with recognition. Critics argue that sexual assault is already a problem throughout the military, but clearly, the presence of more women in the ranks, and particularly in leadership positions, will make male soldiers more accountable and alter a culture where this has been permitted to continue.

Yet no matter the merits, lifting this ban now will create profound challenges for the military. The transition to implementing a repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” along with the integration of women into combat roles at a time of steep budget-cutting, will make things very difficult for all of the armed forces for the near term — and that could last years.  


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