Defense Sec. Leon Panetta announced Thursday that the Pentagon would be lifting the ban on women serving in frontline combat roles.
According to The New York Times, the "decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women have frequently found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 20,000 have served. As of last year, more than 800 women had been wounded in the two wars and more than 130 had died."
The Times story noted that several high profile lawsuits have increased pressure on Pentagon offiicials. Quoting from the Times:
In November 2012 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban on behalf of four service women and the Service Women’s Action Network, a group that works for equality in the military. The A.C.L.U. said that one of the plaintiffs, Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air National Guard helicopter pilot, was shot down, returned fire and was wounded while on the ground in Afghanistan, but could not seek combat leadership positions because the Defense Department did not officially acknowledge her experience as combat.
“Women have been serving heroically in combat for years—with no less ability or proficiency than their male counterparts," U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Patch. "I’m glad that their service and sacrifice are finally being officially and fully embraced.”
PBS NewsHour noted that the lifting of the ban does have a loophole, in that it leaves the mechanics of allowing women in combat up to the individual branches of government. Watch a brief clip on the issue here.
Locally, the St. Louis area has already seen female casualities from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On May 20, 2009, First Lieutenant Roslyn L. Schulte of Ladue, a graduate of John Burroughs and the United States Air Force Academy lost her life in a road-side bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.
She became the first Air Force Academy female graduate to die in the line of duty on the Global War on Terrorism. She was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the National Intelligence Medal for Valor.
In June, her alma mater held an all-star lacrosse game in her honor, featuring players from high schools across the region.
Panetta spoke during a press ceremony Thursday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to the Associated Press, Panetta said every member of the military deserves the chance to be a combat soldier.
Quoting from the AP, Panetta said:
Every person in today's military has made a solemn commitment to fight, and if necessary to die, for our nation's defense. We owe it to them to allow them to pursue every avenue of military service for which they are fully prepared and qualified. Their career success and their specific opportunities should be based solely on their ability to successfully carry out an assigned mission. Everyone deserves that chance.
Rep. William Lacy Clay's office said the Representative would wait for Sec. Panetta to make the official announcement later Thursday before issuing a statement.
Patch attempted to reach Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri. Calls were not returned as of press time.