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Originally published January 24, 2013 at 4:03 PM | Page modified January 24, 2013 at 4:03 PM

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Editorial: Respect for women in combat

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provided formal recognition for women in hostile territory and the opportunity to do more.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WOMEN have been fighting, suffering wounds and dying in combat for years, but they have been denied the formal opportunities for leadership and recognition that come with dangerous duty.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to open up those slots to women is welcome — and overdue. Panetta’s policy change was endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama.

The nature of war has changed over decades. Precisely defining and segregating military occupational specialties to exclude women makes no sense in hostile, counterterrorism environments.

The rules precluded women from serving in smaller units and kept them out of a variety of assignments. Skills, training, experience and capacity did not matter.

Rescinding these limitations, along with the “don't ask, don’t tell” policy, which denied gays and lesbians the right to serve openly, takes away institutional limitations on people who stepped forward to serve and defend their country.

Women have indeed served honorably and bravely in dangerous places around the world. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., put that in the proper context:

“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 service members.”

Panetta’s action will open up approximately 230,000 slots for women. The president noted those opportunities will strengthen our military, enhance readiness and move toward fulfilling ideals of fairness and equity.

Legions of capable women will have the opportunity to apply their skills in dangerous territory and have it formally acknowledged. The nation is grateful.

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