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January 24, 2013 at 6:05 AM

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Women have earned right to serve in combat

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is set to release details Thursday into his decision to lift a ban that prohibits women from serving in combat.

It's about time.

Those who are physically able and willing should be able to serve their country as men do.

This Seattle Times news report points out hundreds of thousands of jobs may now be open to women. Washington's Joint Base Lewis-McChord includes 4,200 women who've traditionally been prohibited from joining the all-male Army Rangers and combat brigades.

The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women have 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 arguments against women serving on the front-lines vary. Perhaps they will ruin unit cohesion? How would America respond to women dying in combat? I say these are normal questions to ask as we move forward. If anything, perhaps involving women will give us extra pause before we enter into dangerous conflicts.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, praised Panetta's decision. Murray said she would work to "quickly implement" the new rules.

“This is an historic step for equality and for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation. From the streets of Iraqi cities to rural villages in Afghanistan, time and again women have proven capable of serving honorably and bravely. In fact, it’s important to remember that in recent wars that lacked any true front lines, thousands of women already spent their days in combat situations serving side-by-side with their fellow male servicemembers."

I was also curious how newly-elected U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, an Iraq war veteran, would respond to the news. Duckworth, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, lost both her legs in Baghdad in 2004 after insurgents shot down her chopper. According to the Chicago Tribune, she's the first woman injured in combat.

Here's Duckworth's statement supporting the decision:

"This decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the frontline to keep America safe. There has always been some level of opposition to increasing the diversity in our military whether it has been minorities or women. It is clear that the inclusion of groups like African Americans and Asians has made our military stronger. As a Veteran who saw combat action I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer and provide inspiration to women throughout our country."

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