The Times West Virginian

January 25, 2013

Women have long been integral part of nation’s fight to preserve freedom

Times West Virginian

— “Everyone is entitled to a chance.”

That’s just one explanation Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered earlier this week as a reason for lifting a ban on women serving in combat.

That means more than 230,000 battlefront posts — many in Army and Marine infantry units and in potentially elite commando jobs — are now open to women. As The Associated Press has reported, it will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend and defend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions, such as Navy SEALs or the Army’s Delta Force.

The historic change, which was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.

“Every person in today’s military has made a solemn commitment to fight, and if necessary to die, for our nation’s defense,” Panetta said. “We owe it to them to allow them to pursue every avenue of military service for which they are fully prepared and qualified. Their career success and their specific opportunities should be based solely on their ability to successfully carry out an assigned mission. Everyone deserves that chance.”

The change was largely applauded, and many members of Congress voiced their support.

Of course, as the AP pointed out, the change won’t take place overnight: Service chiefs will have to develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year, while assessments for others, such as special operations forces, may take longer. The services will have until January 2016 to make a case that some positions should remain closed to women.

And not all women will be able to meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier, and qualifications will not be lowered.

Plus, the decision will present a challenge to top military leaders who will have to decide which, if any, jobs they believe should be open only to men.

But “everyone is entitled to a chance.”

Jessica Lynch certainly thinks so.

On Thursday, the West Virginia resident and former prisoner of war called Panetta’s announcement good news for the U.S. military, saying women have long been integral to victories in the fight for freedom.

Lynch, as you might recall, was just 19 when she was captured after her Army unit took a wrong turn and came under attack in Iraq a decade ago. She was rescued after nine days in captivity.

She now spends her time urging Americans to support military men and women, so it would make sense that she’s supportive of Panetta’s announcement.

“Everyone is entitled to a chance.”

According to statistics from the AP, women comprise about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or to jobs in neighboring nations in support of the wars. Of the more than 6,600 U.S. service members who have been killed, 152 have been women.

We’re confident that every woman who serves in one of the 230,000 battlefront posts will do so with bravery and honor, upholding her pledge to support and defend this nation.

As President Barack Obama said, “Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love.”

We’re glad they’re being given that chance.