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Women will be allowed to fight in combat alongside their male counterparts. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced plans to lift the ban barring women from battle during a Pentagon news conference today.

The dissolution of a longstanding gender barrier will open upwards of 230,000 combat positions for women in the military.

“The time has come for our policies to recognize that reality,” Panetta said.

According to the new rules, all women won’t fit the criteria qualifying them to go into battle, but they will all be given a fair shot. “Everyone is entitled to a chance,” Panetta added.

The U.S. Army and Marines previously resisted allowing women in combat units, but according to Panetta lifting the ban is the least that can be done for those who have committed themselves to potentially losing their lives. “Every person in today’s military has made a solemn commitment to fight, and if necessary to die, for our nation’s defense. 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.”

While some have praised the idea, others, like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) aren’t as exited. Hunter called for Panetta to explain how the decision “increases combat effectiveness” instead of being a “move done for political purposes — which is what this looks like.”

For women on active duty, and those who have retired, the announcement is a step in the right direction. “I have been to Iraq twice, Kuwait three times, and Kurdistan once,” said retired Army Supply Sergeant Sarah Garland. “In this current conflict, there’s no clear definition of a front line. I had as much potential as the next guy of getting blown up on the road or shot.”

Women make up 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel. Of the more than 5,000 soldiers who have died in Iraq, 152 were women. Even with the threat of danger, being officially allowed in combat is “fantastic” according to Garland. “If there is a woman who can meet the physical qualifications—and I mean at the male standards—and can do the job, there’s no reason why she should not be given the opportunity.”


Photo: NY Daily News