US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is planning to announce he is removing the ban on women serving in combat, something women have pushed for for decades.
According to a senior staff member, Secretary Panetta along with Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Demsey, plan to officially announce the decision to lift the ban on women in combat on Thursday. Women have been officially banned from serving in ground combat units since 1994, however they have never been permitted to to participate in infantry or armor combat units.
According to an NPR report, the senior staff member stated:
"The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women."
Panetta has told the military chiefs that they must report to him by May 15 and detail their initial implementation plans.
Military Police Platoon Commander, Dawn Halfaker, served in Iraq and fought alongside infantry, being wounded once. She told CBS News:
"We were all fighting the same fight, doing the same thing."Ban on Women in Combat
In 1994, the U.S. Defense Department (DOD) stated that
"Women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”
In 2005, the DOD reaffirmed that position. Appearing before Congress, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said the Pentagon planned to continue the ban against female soldiers in ground combat. He also stated that women would not be assigned to units where they were "routinely embed with war fighters."
Harvey's statements came after some Pentagon officials were advocating for a lift of the ban on embedding female soldiers with infantry, armor and other combat units.
In November of last year, the American Civil Liberties (ACLU), along with four female service members, filed a lawsuit claiming they were already serving in combat roles but were not receiving credit. The lawsuit stated:
"Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship - serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation."
At that time the suit was filed, ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill stated the current ban was detrimental to female military personnel, saying:
"'It's harming women in the field now. Significant numbers of women have fought alongside their male counterparts in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in fact, are fighting in combat situations."
Shortly after the suit was filed, the Department of Defense opened 14,500 positions to women and lifted the ban that stated women could not live among combat units.