The action yesterday by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to formally lift the ban on women in combat roles was a monumental moment for gender equality in the United States.
As a woman, I am particularly thrilled that so many brave Americans who will no longer be barred from doing what they want to simply because they are women. They should be judged and given opportunities based on their abilities.
Including women in nearly all roles in the military will only make it stronger and more reflective of the America they are defending.
The facts are American women have already been making the ultimate sacrifice for their country fighting on the front lines of two wars over the past decade, despite the continuation of a policy banning them from doing so.
According to the Pentagon, women comprise about 14 percent of active military personnel. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than 280,000 women were deployed to those two countries and others in director support of the wars. More than 800 female service members have been wounded in those conflicts and 152 have died from both combat and noncombat injuries. Last April there were some 20,000 women still serving in Afghanistan.
These women are my heroes and serve as an inspiration to women of all ages.
All of these women volunteered to serve their country and knew the risks when they signed up. They signed up because they were willing to die to defend and preserve freedom for their fellow Americans. It is shameful they haven’t been afforded the freedom to pursue their own personal ambitions within the military establishment until now.
I am most hopeful that by opening up hundreds of leadership roles to women, some of the stains in the fabric of military culture can be cleaned up, most notably, the well-documented, absolutely disgusting record it has of covering up crimes of sexual discrimination and assault within its ranks.
I am hopeful by giving women more power within the institution, the changes and backbone needed to stamp out this abhorrent systemic behavior will occur — and more quickly than they would have otherwise.
I’m relieved, too, that after decades of military women hearing the same tired argument they are an emotional and sexual distraction to their male counterparts during war may finally be laid to rest for good. What a ridiculous excuse.
Our military members are the most disciplined and highly trained members of our society. Surely, they can be taught to keep it in their pants, respect one another and perform their duties. If they don’t, then there should be strict punishments — as there are for other infractions to military codes.
A woman should be treated just like any other soldier and held to the same standards for the positions she seeks. If women can complete the training and demonstrate they can do the job, they should be given the chance to do it.
Talk to any woman serving and she’ll tell you the same thing: She just wants to be treated like every other soldier.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.