Decision to lift ban on women serving in combat met by controversy, promise

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The decision by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to lift the ban on women serving in combat has been met by controversy as much as promise.

Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the rescission of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule for women on Thursday afternoon.

"Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military's mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles," Panetta said. "The Department [of Defense]'s goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender."

Women make up approximately 15 percent, or nearly 202,400, of the U.S. military's 1.4 million active service members.

Over the course of the past decade, more than 280,000 women have deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bernenda Marc, a private security officer at Congregation B'Nai Israel in Boca Raton and Army National Guard First Class, said she was excited about the announcement.

"This decision is very exciting for me because now I don't have anything holding me back," said Marc, who begins her first tour of duty in the Middle East next month. "I have seen many, many females in the military that should not be behind the desk that should be alongside males fighting in front lines."

The Pentagon's decision means 230,000 thousand front line, combat positions are now open for women, including Marc.

"I was trained alongside males -- the same way they have been trained -- and, I believe that a lot of females, they will show well and they will do great," she said.

There has been little pushback since the announcement but questions have been raised about the transition.

"The climate is very similar to what it was and that is going to change a whole heck of a lot," said Angela Rodriguez, a West Palm Beach resident and retired U.S. Airforce Military Intelligence Operations Specialist who served in Operation Desert Strike in 1996. "There's probably going to be a lot more resentment than there is now [because] it's going to take the guys a little while -- a long while, probably -- to really conform and accept the jobs that the women are going to be doing."

Panetta has asked military departments to submit detailed transition plans by May 15, 2013, and to expeditiously integrate women into previously closed positions.

The process is expected to be complete by January 1, 2016, Panetta said.

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