Historic Pentagon Announcement Promotes Equality for US Military Women

Shoshana Johnson was taken prisoner in Iraq 10 years ago while serving in the US Army.

The Pentagon was expected to announce a historic change on Thursday – a decision to get rid of the longstanding policy that has officially kept U.S. women from serving in combat during wartime.

According to published reports, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta decided to change the policy after consulting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the top leaders in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

(The Pentagon is the headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department.  It’s located in Arlington, Virginia.  And “combat” means fighting on the front lines, in direct contact with the enemy.)

“The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service,” said the Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Martin Dempsey, according to a portion of a letter printed by the Washington Post.

(“Rescind” means to cancel.)

In reality, women have already served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan – wars where the front lines have often been blurry or non-existent.

In those wars, almost anywhere had a chance of becoming a combat zone — with little or no notice — because the enemy wasn’t organized the same way the U.S. military is and could strike almost at random.

(“Random” means “having no specific pattern.”)

So women often found themselves in combat situations, regardless of the official policy.

Unfortunately, at least 152 U.S. military women have been killed in those wars, according to the Post.

And some have been taken prisoner by the enemy, including Shoshana Johnson, the woman in the picture above this story.

Johnson served in the army in Iraq.

Fortunately, she was rescued, along with another woman in her unit.

But a third woman – Lori Piestewa – did not survive their ordeal.

Not all women want to expose themselves to the dangers of combat.

But Panetta and the military leaders now agree that they should have the opportunity if they want it.

Most members of Congress who were interviewed on Wednesday agreed.

“The reality is that so many women have been, in effect, in combat (already),” said Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  “This is catching up with reality.”

“(This decision) reflects the increasing role that female service members play in serving our country,” said New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, who’s a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a statement printed by the New York Times.

But not everyone supports the policy change.

According to the Post, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe – the leading Republican on the Armed Services Committee – said the new policy raises “serious practical barriers” that might endanger service members in combat situations.

The change does not require Congressional approval, according to published reports.

Those reports also say that Congress is unlikely to try to block it.

The Pentagon will reportedly give the Armed Forces until January 2016 to comply fully with the new policy.

In the end, it’s expected to open up hundreds of thousands of additional military jobs to women – and put them on a more equal footing with military men.

“The decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the front line to keep America safe,” said Illinois Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

Duckworth served in the Illinois Army National Guard in Iraq.

And she knows the dangers of combat firsthand.

She lost her legs in an explosion.

But she still supports the policy change.

“I know the inclusion of women will make America safer,” she told Tribune reporter Ellen Jean Hirst, “and provide inspiration to women throughout our country.”