Speaking anonymously, a senior defense official said on Wednesday that the Pentagon would be lifting the rule against women being assigned to direct combat roles. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will make the official announcement. The policy change will allow the military services to begin planning their implementation of the decision. Modern warfare has brought more women than ever to the front lines, where there were front lines, and into combat.
Many women have been recognized for their bravery in combat. Here are just a few. Army helicopter pilot Rhonda Cornum was captured by Iraqi forces in 1991 and held for two weeks. Kim Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for her piloting of a severely damaged A-10 over Iraq in 2003. The Silver Star is the nation's third highest medal for valor in battle. Two women were awarded this honor in the last decade, a first for a woman since World War II. Leigh Ann Hester received a Silver Star for her heroic actions during an ambush in Iraq in 2005 that killed 27 enemy fighters. In an Afghan fight in 2007, Monica Lin Brown received a Silver Star for her bravery as a combat medic while treating wounded under fire.
Killed in Action
Hundreds of American military personnel who are women have been killed or wounded since 2001. Here is a small sample of those losses. In 2006, Amanda Pinson was waiting for a bus on a U.S. base in Iraq when she was killed by mortar fire. Jennifer Parcell served with the Marine Lioness program in Iraq and was killed by a female suicide bomber in 2007. Rachael Hugo was killed in an convoy ambush in Iraq in 2007. Jessica Sarandrea was killed in a mortar attack on a U.S. base in Iraq in 2009. Devin Snyder was killed in 2011 when her vehicle hit a mine in Afghanistan.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, a career Navy officer and former POW, has this to say about the decision to open direct combat roles to women: "I respect and support Secretary Panetta's decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat. The fact is that American women are already serving in harm's way today all over the world and in every branch of our armed forces. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, and our nation owes them a deep debt of gratitude."
Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, herself a combat veteran who was badly wounded when her helicopter was struck by enemy fire, also applauded the decision. "This decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the frontline to keep America safe. ... As a veteran who saw combat action I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer and provide inspiration to women throughout our country."