Correspondent (North America)
WASHINGTON – On the 24th of January, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey lifted the ban on women engaging in US military combat, including revoking restrictions from infantry, artillery and armor.
Panetta, who had been active as a division commander in Baghdad, had spent nearly 18 months as defense secretary speaking to women across the US, Afghanistan and Iraq on their military involvements. The lifting of the ban reflects Panetta’s concerns, developed in his experience as military officer, that women are equally capable of performing in combat situations to men, while these capabilities had not been officially recognized as such. Furthermore, the decision to lift the ban is encouraged by Panetta’s preparation for his leave of office.
The lifting of ban that had been enacted in 1994 was motivated by President Obama’s inauguration speech last week that greatly focused on equal rights and social justice values.
“Our journey’, Obama declared, “is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”
Panetta’s decision will open more than 200,000 further jobs within the US military, allowing opportunities for women to achieve senior leadership positions based on combat experience. Until January 2016 the military service will have time to implement the changes to its system and recruit women across all sectors, although Panetta said some positions would be opened later this year. Along with positions in the US Army and Marine Corps, women will also be allowed to serve as forces on US Navy submarines and in further high-risk positions of the US Air Force.
Equality of rights across all sectors of the military will affect recruitment procedures in such a way that equal standards of performance between men and women will be expected, including levels of physical fitness and strength. “Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. Dempsey dismissed assertions made that the increase in female recruitment could increase sexual harassment and assaults, stating, “The more we treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally”. The very exclusion of women from combat and high-level positions may have contributed to past assaults, Dempsey says.
The lifting of the ban follows the revoking of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy in 2011, which authorized openly gay and lesbian troops to participate in combat. What this policy had demanded of bi-sexual military personnel was that they hide their sexual orientation. The notion that military unity is strengthened by equal sexual-orientation among troops was thus rejected by the Pentagon.
Future commitments towards LGBT equality could include greater diversity in government administration. However, while the permission of women to compete in combat positions has been a groundbreaking development in US policy, in 29 US states it remains legal to fire individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons