US to lift ban on women in front-line combat jobs

US military

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to formally announce on Thursday that he will lift the policy that excluded women from units whose main job is to engage in combat, U.S. defense officials said.

"Everyone serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is in combat by the very nature of those conflicts," said Peggy Reiber, who retired from the Marine Corps 16 years ago as a first sergeant and lives in a San Diego suburb.

"Women have certainly fought equally and died equally, it's time we were recognized equally."

The move, which could open thousands of fighting jobs to female service members for the first time, knocks down another societal barrier in the US armed forces after the Pentagon in 2011 scrapped its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

"I feel like it's beyond time," said Staff Sergeant Tiffany Evans, a soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, describing the move as an overdue recognition that women already serve in combat.

But not all were pleased by the decision. The conservative Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee complained the move could detract from the military's role in protecting the country.

"Our military cannot continue to choose social experimentation and political correctness over combat readiness," the group's president, Penny Nance, said.

Defense officials said the decision to end the ban was made by Panetta, and that individual military services would have until 2016 to seek exemptions if they believe any combat roles should remain closed to women.

Women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq during the last dozen years have accompanied Marines on house raids so they could conduct weapons searches on Muslim women captives who could not be frisked by men. They drive trucks in supply convoys and pilot low-flying cargo planes, dangerous jobs that make them a target.

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