WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in announcing he is lifting a ban on women serving in combat, said he believes women have become an integral part of the military's ability to succeed.
Panetta made his announcement with the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, at a Pentagon news conference.
Panetta said that not everyone can meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier. But, he said, everyone is entitled to the chance.
He said the qualifications will not be reduced, and with women playing a broader role, the military will be strengthened.
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – A groundbreaking decision comes from the Pentagon allowing women to serve their country from the frontlines.
After more than a decade at war, sources at the Pentagon say secretary of defense Leon Panetta will remove the 1994 ban on women in combat.
It's a landmark decision that will potentially open up thousands of elite commando jobs for women.
Local veterans say it's a change women in the military have been waiting for, for years.
"To lift the ban is kind of liberating. It was holding a lot of women from getting promoted to general status and also higher ranking personnel as well,” said Karie Wallace of Eau Claire
Wallace is an Air Force veteran who served for ten years, most of it overseas.
She knows all too well that for the last 20 years, women have been restricted from combat roles, like artillery and infantry.
But Wallace said women have already been on frontline duties in Iraq and Afghanistan, where no battle line exists and terrorism is always a possibility.
“It is great because there really hasn't been a ‘frontline’ to combat in over ten years. The truth is that woman can do the job, because in many ways they already have been,” said Wallace.
Clif Sorenson, the Veterans Affairs Officer of Eau Claire County said women have already proven they have the skills based on their heroism in the two wars.
“They have the training, the ability and they're willing to do these jobs and they have shown by their service here, in Iraq and in Afghanistan that they can work on the frontlines, shoulder to shoulder with male veterans,” said Sorenson.
As of 2012, more than 800 women were wounded in the two wars and more than 150 died.
Now experts say lifting this ban will put them directly into the heat of the battle.
“I think that women who want to be able to do that are going to be able to pursue their goals and not be limited because someone else told them they can't,” said Wallace.
Those that argue against Panetta’s decision say they’re biggest concern is a woman’s physical ability to carry equipment or even another soldier.
But officials say women would have to volunteer for combat duty and meet the same physical standards faced by men.
“Remember, we have policemen and women, we have firemen and women and those specialty skills where you need the ability to move a fellow firemen or policemen out of line of fire, I feel those skills that women can attain can be applicable to the military,” said Sorenson who is a veteran himself, serving in the Vietnam War.
Wallace said she agrees and women should have the same training as men do.
“No one ever carried my bags when I was in the military. Women don't join the military because they're looking for chivalry. You do the same job. I mean, we've been talking about equal pay for equal jobs and this just kind of goes right along with that,” said Wallace.
“It certainly sets a precedents saying ‘yes, here in 2013, women are officially as capable military people as men’.”
Military services will have until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they find any positions must remain closed to women.
The Pentagon released a statement Wednesday night that secretary Panetta strongly supports these changes.
He said women have already contributed so much to the current wars and described this as the beginning, not the end for women in the military
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.
The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.