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Posted by on Jan 23, 2013 in Breaking News, Law, Politics, Society, War | 36 comments

Breaking News: Pentagon to Lift Rule Excluding Women From Combat (Updates)


Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will conduct a news conference on “defense-related topics” starting at 1:30 p.m. EST.on the Pentagon Channel.


While details on this groundbreaking decision are not yet available from the Pentagon, the New York Times provides the following information:

The implementation of this change does not require Congressional approval and has been “in large part driven by the military itself.”

But, “By law Mr. Panetta is able to lift the ban as a regulatory decision, although he must give Congress a 30-day notice of his intent. Congress does not need to approve the decision before it goes into effect. If Congress disagrees with the action, members would have to pass new legislation prohibiting the change, which appeared highly unlikely.”


Mr. Panetta’s decision came after he received a Jan. 9 letter from Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stated in strong terms that the armed service chiefs all agreed that “the time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”

A military official said the change would be implemented “as quickly as possible,” although the Pentagon is allowing three years, until January 2016, for final decisions from the services.

Each branch of the military will have to come up with an implementation plan in the next several months, the official said. If a branch of the military decides that a specific job should not be opened to a woman, representatives of that branch will have to ask the defense secretary for an exception.


Public opinion polls show that Americans generally agree with lifting the ban. A nationwide Quinnipiac University poll conducted a year ago found that three-quarters of voters surveyed favored allowing military women to serve in units that engaged in close combat, if the women wanted to.

Policy experts who have pushed the military to lift the ban said that it was striking that much of the impetus appeared to come from Joint Chiefs, indicating that the top military leadership saw that the time had come to open up to women.


Under current rules, a number of military positions are closed to women — and to open them, the services have to change the rules.

Under Mr. Panetta’s new initiative, the situation is the opposite: Those combat positions would be open to women, and they could only be closed through specific action.

Read more here

Original Post:

I have written about it — and we had a healthy discussion about it — here.

Now it appears that it is going to happen. I am talking about allowing women in combat .

According to the Department Of Defense,

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected to announce the lifting of the direct combat exclusion rule for women in the military, a senior defense official said today.

The policy change will begin a process in which the services will develop plans to implement the decision, which was made by Panetta upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the official said.

The official provided no further details and did not indicate when the announcement might take place.

The Washington Post also reports that:

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has decided to allow women to serve in combat roles, a watershed policy decision that follows years of calls for a fully inclusive military, defense officials said Wednesday.

Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, are expected to formally announce the change Thursday, the officials said. The Army, Marines and other services will then develop plans to open jobs in ground combat units, such as the infantry, to women.

The decision comes after a decade during which women — fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan — have been pushed closer to the front lines than ever before. It also comes less than a year and half after the formal end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” which banned gay men and women from serving openly.

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  • sheknows

    I remember years ago visiting Isreal and talking with the women/girls there about being drafted in the military. The ones I spoke with were about 18 yrs of age. Oddly, I never thought it as inappropriate. As for combat, I am not opposed to it if they can physically handle the demands.
    There is no reason to think that a man is any more expendable than a woman in warfare certainly, and if capable a woman could and should be just as much of an asset.
    Afterall..”the female IS the more deadly of the species” 🙂

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thanks, Sheknows.

    My personal opinion on this issue — for whatever it is worth –is the same as I stated in a comment to the above-cited post almost three years ago:

    My personal opinion is that those women who want to serve their country in combat, should be allowed to do so — and I will say a prayer for them.

    But if there is a mandatory draft that includes women, I believe that only those who volunteer should be placed in harm’s way.

    I know that this is somewhat inconsistent (some will say hypocritical) with wanting equal rights for women (“equal rights mean equal responsibilities”, etc.), but that is just my personal opinion–as the father of a lady, and the brother of two ladies whom I love.

    But I add, even if there is no draft, only those women who positively volunteer for combat should be permitted to serve in combat.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    I agree with you Dorian. There are issues, so many kinds in artillery esp. I’m clear men are stronger physically than most women, not to say one cant train more strength in… but I’m also clear that men can be heart wounded over a woman being killed perhaps even more because of long time relating to women in ways that are often more emotionally free than with men. What that would do to the morale, so to speak, of the squad, could be long lasting. I’m also clear that women are vulnerable sexually to certain brutalities. I dont want our treasure, that is any of our sons and daughters, to go to war.

  • sheknows

    Thanks Dorian. I know exactly how you feel about it, being the mother of a young lady myself. Personally, I could never see her in that role unless they had salons near combat zones.
    But I think about her and worry when she drives on icy roads, or goes canoeing down the river, or just gets on a plane.
    In our hearts,we all hold the women we love to a double standard that will probably never change. By the same token, if we crank out a whole platoon of GI Janes, we will rest easier about this decision.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Fully agree with Dorian and Dr. E….only when it is the woman’s choice…

    And… if i had the power would have the same guidelines as Dorian spoke for women, as for men.

    If only we lived in a world where no one would be put into combat that did not want to be there…

    Back during Vietnam War felt empathy for the Conscientious Objectors… if i were male could of easily made similar choice…there is nothing in me that could kill as a soldier is trained to kill…just not there, … Just thinking about putting men and women in battle, programming them to kill or be killed is shattering…

    I hate war… the truth is it continues to be a righteous choice for greater safety and peace at times… Deeply honor those that can do it for the greater good. To go into combat and to be willing to kill or be killed for a nation requires qualities that i do not possess…

    Perhaps some women can, it leaves shivers down the spine for them and prayers in the heart…

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Thanks for all the comments on this very sensitive and, I am sure, controversial issue. We’ll be hearing and discussing much more about it.

  • ShannonLeee

    Any person that volunteers should not be held back from front-line duties, nor should they be protected from the front-line.

    I spent a good amount of time in athletics. Practiced once with the USA women’s national basketball team. A well-trained, in shape woman, can be physically twice as strong and mobile as an average man, and many ladies are mentally stronger. The idea that we have to protect our military women is old thinking.

    We have to protect everyone in the military. Mostly from ourselves.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      its not silly DDW: there is merit to that. The ‘fog of war’ makes many forget that the military in the US is the biggest employer, ever seeking bodies with intelligence to do war. There are many many reasons why people sign up during a war. Why some decide to go into harm’s way or not. There is a brio about ‘honor’ and ‘duty’ that is seductive for many of the young, and looked upon differently by those older and wiser. People who are parents of children ought not be taken to war, not even for a paycheck. Your concern is actually about children, I think, that they not be ‘the collateral damage’ from wartime casualties of their mothers and fathers. In this, I agree. For all the flapping about of women and men being equal, the illogic of it is astounding… accommodations in many directions have to be made for all aspects of genders to be ‘equal’. And too, the personal and spiritual is left out of the balance when someone says, all must be treated alike. There is so much more to say. I tend to think, let each person decide for themselves to be or not, to try or not try to be ‘a ranger’ for instance. But the conversation about the wartime use of the ‘capital’ of women who are child-bearers and child caregivers in the majority– has to continue, for the underlying premise of a paycheck for putting oneself in harm’s way, is not a woman/man issue. It’s an issue of squandering our Treasure of our young, our hardwoking and smart and talented young, in killing wars that if they dont kill the body, they can murder the spirit.

      I like what you said DdW.

      ” The idea that we have to protect our military women is old thinking. “

      True and mea culpa. For those of us who are ‘older,’ who have always had a special respect and concern for women, it is sometimes very difficult to suppress those “old thinking” feelings and ways.

      For some reason, I just can not fathom drafting a mother, putting a rifle in her hands and shoving her off to the front lines. I know it’s silly, but hey, we all have our idiosyncrasies.

  • ShannonLeee

    meant nothing about older people! 🙂

    my 95 year old grandmother thinks younger than most 20 year olds that I know…and obviously with much more wisdom.

    as for a draft…it will never happen. We’ll just make more drones.

    I have never patrolled a hostile street wearing 40 pounds of gear, but I would think that intelligence and awareness trump brute strength in today’s war-zone.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Sorry for being a little “snarky,” Shannon Lee — it comes with “old thinking” 🙂

  • They’re already there, so it’s not much of a difference, really. Everyone will adapt.

  • ShannonLeee

    old and snarky!

    have you have seen George Carlin’s routine on Old F***’s and Old Farts?

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      @ ShannonLeee

      I don’t know if I want to see it. Should I? Oh, heck, why not.

      • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

        @Shannon Lee.

        I don’t know if I was watching the right one, but i could not watch it in its entirety: very bad video and sound quality, too many F*#@s. Not my cup of tea. But thanks, anyway

  • The_Ohioan

    Equal rights in exchange for equal responsibility has always been my mantra. I do see one problem that is not, for all practial purposes, equal. The caretaker of toddlers is usually the mother. A mother with PTSD would not be an optimum outcome of this decision.

    The “volunteer” option diminishes the equal responsibility if a draft was in place. To say a draft will never be reinstated is more than I would predict given the many tours of duty now necessary for volunteer troops and the attendant suicide rate. A future President and Congress could well decide, indeed some have so stated, that a draft needs to be considered. That’s why all males over 18 must register for one. Equality would dictate that all fmales over 18 must register as well.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist


    I share your specific concern (PTSD) — and I have other ones.

    While I am still looking for specific wording, it is my understanding that –draft or no draft — only women who volunteer for such will be assigned to combat duties, which IMHO is good.

  • KP

    Latest surveys of the Defense Department show 10.5 percent of active military women had unplanned pregnancy in the in the past year. That is twice the general population. When you are counting on a “team” to work together to kill or be killed, considering the medical implications, let alone the emotional implications, at first blush this appears troublesome for the men and women involved that depend on one another for survival.

    DDW, have you read discussion on this topic?

    Leaving policy aside, some military personel volunteer and then decide they don’t like war, killing and the mayhem they are part of.

    How might moral (of other women and men) be affected on the front lines if a woman whose co-workers are depending on her expertise and training, seeks an intentional pregnancy as a way to go home? To be clear, I didn’t come up with that idea on my own. It’s being reported on in today’s circumstances.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      DDW, have you read discussion on this topic?

      I have read, and written, quite a bit about it.


  • KP

    DDW, I should have posed my question more as a plea for your much respected opinion(s). Due diligence on my part is needed uncover past valuable time and work on your part.

    I never skip you your posts or comments because I enjoy them and am interested in learning. I don’t have the answers. A client of mine is a gal who was a captain in the Army and West Point grad. She served in Iraq. My brother is a retired Rear Admiral and flew in the F-14 Tomcat for decades (saw combat). After all that exposure, I still have trouble forming opinion because of the intricate variables. Not a gotcha question, I assure you.

    To date, I am of the mind that as long as physical and mental standards are not lowered, that women should be in combat; period.

    To answer my own question relative to pregnancy, the military needs to be sure birth control is everywhere, because sex is obviously almost everywhere. Lack of privacy and the spontaneous nature available to the deployed probably mean birth contro is less widely employed. The medical/legal issues should also be addressed as ‘gaming the system’ would be detrimental to morale (esprit de corps).

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

  • KP

    I work on a regular basis (medically and as an advisor and participant) with elite endurance athletes, male and female. I assure the readers, women can suffer with the best of men. I mean that literally. Experience tells us that woman may recover faster than men when placed in simlar ultra endurance situations.

    As well, and I say this tongue in cheek, any man who gets the flu will tell you when he gets it, he gets a _really_ bad case. Somehow a woman’s case isn’t quite as bed 🙂


  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    Thanks for your very kind comments, KP, and sorry for the shortness of my previous question.

    I am flattered that you would ask me for my thoughts on this issue and I will post them — along with other more authoritative opinions — in a follow-up post.

    But just to give you a “preview”:

    As I have said before, my objections to placing women in harm’s are strictly personal and have to do with old-fashioned (some may call them “chauvinistic”) concerns for their safety and well being.

    Other than that I see no insurmountable legal, moral, social, military preparedness or whatever problems or issues for women to be placed in combat roles. Just to give you an example, some claim that women should not join combat units because they may be exposed to sexual abuse by their fellow service members.

    To that, I say hogwash. First they are already totally “integrated” in the military. If that is a problem (and I don’t think it generally is), it is a problem with the men who would perpetrate such offenses, not the women.

    It is analogous to some of the excuses that were given in order to prevent the full racial integration of our armed forces: “Look at how these black soldiers will be exposed to all kinds of abuse by their white fellow servicemen,” or “it is going to lower morale,” “or it is going to degrade military readiness” and all kinds of other BS like that. And then there is Don’t ask, don’t tell.

    Don’t get me started,

  • KP

    Thanks for starting and fire away (pun intended)!

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      KP, the NYT “Blogrunner” usually has a pretty good selection of articles on any important particular topic.

      There is a whole bunch on women in combat. Please click here

  • ordinarysparrow

    One of my concerns; The rules of combat an be changed from prohibiting women in combat to allowing with a stroke of a pen… but do not think it is as easy to change 250,000 plus of evolutionary difference of the sexes.. I believe there is something deeply innate in the masculine psyche that is willing to hunt, use violence to defend and protect…. often time at his own risk…and i have concerns that many men might feel more protective of female soldier combats than their male counterparts… Would this add greater risk to the masculine? Just as there is something in the biology of woman that allows her to breast feed an infant, her hormones are matched to facilitate the bonding with the infant..

    There are biological/psychological/ and evolutionary differences in males and women… do not feel that equal means the same when it comes to the sexes…overall, for many, there are marked differences…

    Hormones are no little thing for both men and women… and they have very different expressions… that bring women and men together and keep them very different…

    Some women are physically able to meet the standards for combat and are mentally able to realign to be combat ready…trust that is possible…perhaps there are both pros and cons..

    Am not opposed to women in combat if they are fully equipped but have many concerns for both men and women…

    i have known lots of tough women in sports, but sports is not military combat….

    KP when it comes to women and pain, believe they often handle physical pain better than men…. when a woman gives birth, really do not believe many men could do that as easily as women… but many women are more tender in the heart and soul when it comes to killing….not all, but many ….

    Just continuing to think about this one today…

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Hi OS

      Those are common concerns — or thoughts — expressed about placing women in combat, and I am sure we’ll get deeper into these issues. But for now,just let me point out that over the past ten years more than 280,000 women have already served in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of them in “near-combat” or combat roles and I don’t think I have heard of a single incident where women on the front-line, patrolling the streets of Baghdad, flying combat support missions, etc., have jeopardized the mission, have placed their male companions in any kind of compromising or at-risk situations,etc. On the contrary, they have served honorably and valiantly and, sadly, 152 of these brave and capable women have made the ultimate sacrifice. I hope to quote testimony from some of these brave women and by their male brothers-in-arms (redundancy here?) attesting to the fact that this is a “non-issue.”

      Of course, there are will always be the detractors, as there were with DADT, who will oppose this ad-infinitum — and I am not including here the many who do have legitimate, reasonable and reasoned concerns and arguments.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist


      NPR has a neat article with five questions (and answers) about some of the technical” aspects of the lifting the ban on women in combat. Here are the questions

      For the answers, please click here

      How many combat positions are there in the military?

      Will women still be barred from some units?

      Will the standards be different for men and women?

      [You asked about “standards”]

      Aren’t women more or less serving in combat already?

      Will women now have greater opportunities to advance in the military?

  • KP

    OS said … “KP when it comes to women and pain, believe they often handle physical pain better than men…. when a woman gives birth, really do not believe many men could do that as easily as women… but many women are more tender in the heart and soul when it comes to killing….not all, but many.”

    We agree. For clarity, when I was referring to a woman’s ability to suffer I was not specifically referring to pain as that term is subjective. My professional experience has been that women can psychologically deal with hardship over acute or long periods of time as well as men. By hardship I mean fatigue, hunger, perseverance, survival instincts, etc. An excellent reference that I am sure you would devour is “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales.

    The mind has what is called a “central governor”. Each individual has a governor and the mind will seek to stop activity it sees as a threat to our health. My job, as an ultra endurance advisor is to rewire the brain so that it understands the individual can and will survive.

    Mind you, the central governor is part of the subconscious. We can learn to expand it; and those of us that actively seek to expand the mind, discover straight away that we didn’t know what we didn’t know. In my world, women are exceptional students!

    Just like DADT, there is a gray area. Looks like we are close to deciding the gray area is less important than it once was.

  • KP

    Are hormones a part of the question? Indirectly. The ultimate ‘decider’ will not be men/women/gay/blood testing hormones levels. It will be performance. Predictive performance is everything, and testing that predictive performance is mostly objective. Bottom line, women may lack in strength in _some_ areas, but kick ass in endurance performance. And I want to make it clear, they are recent newcomers to rewiring endurance limiters via the central governor. The Olympics didn’t even allow the women’s marathon event until relatively recently.

    It is a scientific fact — not in dispute — women perform at a 10% difference from men in endurance events. Each person in combat will be assigned via predictive performance.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Interesting stuff, KP. Keep it coming, I am learning.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Dorian for the information and the questions… listened to discussions on NPR today from women in the military and they were very supportive of the lifting of the ban… It was good to hear women in the military perspectives…

    It is big social change, the last couple of days in getting more information sounds this is what most of the women in the military want…perhaps that is the bottom line for me…

    Have a good friend that was in Desert Storm, asked her, found it interesting first person account…

    She spent 5 months in dessert with an 8 men unit, as the only woman… she could not of asked for more honorable men… said it was her experience and many other women to not experience sexual misconduct while stationed overseas…But said, “only a woman that has gone through bootcamp will ever know how appalling and prevalent the sexual abuse by predominately Drill Sgts, they think they own the new recruit and entire body. I don’t think men and women in combat will raise sexual misconduct, but and degree of sexual abuse on U.S. ground is atrocious, it was not even hidden, but blatant sexual misconduct, they did not bother to hide it.” She went on to say; ” I was so young, 19 years old. What i did then is something i do not feel i would of done if i had been more conscious and more mature… I feel men and women should have equal opportunities in the military, but nowadays after being there i don’t want men or women to be in war…”

    Also after you shared the number of women that have been killed in service, wondered how many women have been awarded the Purple Heart…
    Did not find much, but found this link that is interesting, for it shows the increase through the wars of women recipients of Purple Hearts..

    Thanks KP for clarifying, those are good points too, and put things into perspective… agree with what Dorian said, i am learning from each one here… thanks

    Looks like there are questions that we shall live into as a Nation… hope and pray that with daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives in combat it will help to emphasis the sacrifice and dangers for all men and women in combat…May sending military troops into harms way, may it always be the last resort…

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      Regrettably, there has been a serious history of sexual abuse/harassment at the largest Air Force basic training center (Lackland Air Force Base, by San Antonio). It has been under intense investigation and several court martials have already taken place, and the investigations and judicial process continue.

      Here is one such article.

  • ShannonLeee

    DDW, GC was never known to be clean 😉

    It is no surprise that decades of social conditioning has people searching for reasons to justify their “out dated thinking”. This is no different than building a creationism museum when faced with solid science that the earth is just a little older than what the bible says.

    The first step is to stop comparing “women” to men. The the type of woman that wants to be a navy seal is far far out of female box conservative thinkers want to place her in.

  • KP

    Here’s a thought:

    If you were picking teams, who would you choose to work alongside you all day in 120 degree temperatures, and then depend on the person in a firefight at the end of the day? Two choices:

    a) very fit and strong (power/kilogram) 200lb muscular man

    b) very fit and strong (power/kilogram) soldier who weighed 140lbs

    Hint, the larger soldier will have significantly more trouble dissipating heat, with dehydrating, decrease blood stroke volume, suffering high heart rates, fueling nutritionally, electrolyte loss and greater risk of heat stroke.

    In other words, who is more likely to be there and still able to fight?

    I am pretty sure a strong 140lb women could drag my 200lb butt to cover if I were shot and she needed to.

    In the military, there are different kinds of jobs to be tasked, strengths and weaknesses to be considered.

    In my mind, the KEY for choosing combat participants on the front lines should be standadized testing/performance markers. Then choosing markers that are most useful. Are doing ten pulls necessary? Probably for the SEAL Teams. Maybe not for fighters who are not rope climbing or faced with hand to hand combat.

    I’d choose the gal that was a Division 1 college runner at the West Point over the guy that does pull ups in his back yard.

    And have you ever watched women rock climbers? My gawd, it is amazing. Check it out, they are like Spiderman. Pretty sure they are doing as many pulls ups as they want. Maybe one handed.

    • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

      In my mind, the KEY for choosing combat participants on the front lines should be standadized testing/performance markers. Then choosing markers that are most useful. Are doing ten pulls necessary? Probably for the SEAL Teams. Maybe not for fighters who are not rope climbing or faced with hand to hand combat.

      KP, good points.

      Rest assured,. there are and will be “standards” and opther qualifying criteria — just like there are for a woman to qualify to be a combat fighter pilot.

      For starters, Leon Panetta:

      Our purpose is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the best qualified and the most capable servicemembers, regardless of gender and regardless of creed and beliefs. If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job — and let me be clear, I’m not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job — if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.

      Having conducted an extensive review, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have developed a very thoughtful approach to integrating women into occupations across the force. I strongly agree with their guiding principles and the specific milestones that they propose.

      We are all committed to implementing this change without compromising readiness or morale or our warfighting capabilities. Positions will be open to women following service reviews, using the Joint Chiefs’ guiding principles, and following congressional notification procedures established by law.

  • ShannonLeee

    And I would argue that a more astute woman could have kept you from getting shot in the first place. Life is more mental than physical.

    Another thought is….if black folks are more athletic than white folks…. Why not have only black folks on the front line? Oh wait, we did that and now we don’t look back at those times with much pride.

    I do agree with you about certain physical requirements for all soldiers.

  • KP

    SL, surprising responses. If you agree that performance and physical requirements should be artfully employed // and I assume you agree mental requirements are absolute // then your gender and racial references look curious.

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