Good news for proponents of women serving in front-line combat positions: outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the ban. Bad news: his proposed replacement, Chuck Hagel, will probably fire most of them anyway.
There is some confusion over just how big of a change this will work out to. It may not rise to the “Big Effin Deal” status famously codified by Vice President Joe Biden. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The announcement will mark the largest expansion yet of women in combat roles. But defense officials said they don’t expect the change to result in women being allowed to serve as infantry troops.
[…] “The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a January 9 memo to Mr. Panetta.
While the move does not lift all restrictions on military service by women, the announcement is an acknowledgment that women on modern battlefields already are in the fight—and that military rules need to be updated to reflect current realities of the current-day war zones.
(Emphasis mine.) But what about the necessary gender-based barriers to service? Who decides which are necessary? Are most of them truly arbitrary, once the current battlefield activities of women mentioned by the Journal are taken into account? The military reportedly has three years to figure it all out, although some female combat jobs could become available later this year.
CBS News took a shot at guessing what this means:
The policy will make women eligible to serve as infantrymen on combat patrol and even in elite special operations units, like the Navy SEALS. However, women will have to meet strength standards that could keep them out of units where the physical demands are especially grueling.
Which, I would imagine, pretty much rules out the theoretical possibility of female SEALs. Men in good physical condition can be killed by merely listening to a thorough description of SEAL training. As the Associated Press notes, the Pentagon already opened up 14,500 combat positions to women last year; Panetta’s directive will open 230,000 more.
A common question I’ve seen on the Internet since the news broke is, “Will this require women to register for Selective Service?” Personally, I can’t see any problem with it, provided the registration forms are not kept in binders.
It’s an interesting coincidence that this move was announced on the same day Hillary Clinton testified on Benghazi at long last, and gave our troops an inspiring new battle cry: “What difference does it make?” We can work this right into some of our great fighting songs, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lighting of His terrible swift sword
What difference does it make?