Panetta makes it official, lifts restrictions on women in combat

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Pentagon this afternoon announced it would lift a ban preventing military women from serving in ground combat units.

The change was prompted by valiant efforts of women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing today.

"If they can do the job, if they can meet the standards, if they can meet the qualifications that are involved here, there is no reason why they shouldn't have a chance. That's just a fundamental belief of mine and I think it's a fundamental belief of the American people," Mr. Panetta said.

Gen. Dempsey said the integration of women into combat units will expand opportunities for men, too, because the change requires the military to set clear gender-neutral performance standards "based on what it actually takes to do the job."

Mr. Panetta said it has been one of his priorities to remove barriers so talented and qualified people to serve in the military. He said the change makes the military stronger.

"I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation, and every citizen who can meet the qualifications of service should have that opportunity," he said. "Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier but everyone is entitled to a chance."

Women comprise 15 percent of the armed services.

"The fact is that they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission," Mr. Panetta said.

President Barack Obama called the policy change a historic step that will allow the military to harness the talents and skills of all citizens.

"This milestone reflects the courageous and patriotic service of women through more than two centuries of American history and the indispensable role of women in today's military. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, including more than 150 who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan -- patriots who sacrifices show that valor knows no gender," Mr. 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."

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