The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting 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.A source said chiefs of the military branches must report back to Panetta, or whoever follows him as secretary of defense, by May 15 with implementation plans. While some combat positions may be available to women in 2013, it may take longer for them to be allowed to seek positions in special operations units. All told, some 230,000 jobs could be opened to women by the move. Only 14,500 are available now.
While women serving in combat remains a controversial issue among many in the military and among right-wing politicians, experience in the field has been changing that. Particularly in situations where there are no front lines, women have found themselves in combat even when they weren't assigned to combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some officers have sent them into areas where it was clear they might wind up in firefights and, by all accounts, they acquitted themselves well when the shooting started.
Women combat pilots and other women flyers have already made a mark for themselves. In the earliest days of the war in Afghanistan, Capt. Allison Black navigated a AC-130H gunship and was literally calling the shots in a fight with the Taliban:
On a mission over the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz in 2001, one particularly fierce warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum [a U.S. ally at the time], "found it amazing" that a woman was directing fire on the Taliban forces, says Black. "He thought it was so hilarious. He asked, 'Is that a woman?' " [...]
Then, as Black called in another round of fire, Dostum dialed [Taliban] fighters by phone, so they, too, could hear her voice on his walkie-talkie: "He really berated them, saying 'You're so pathetic, American women are killing you. You need to surrender now,' " Black says.
The ultimate decision was clear last July when Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said: "For me, I see it as talent management: I want to utilize the best talent I have. That's what has driven us to it: The women have proven it to us."
Now, if only we could engage in fewer wars for them and men in uniform to fight.