WASHINGTON Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that he is rescinding a rule that bans women serving in direct combat roles to ensure that U.S. forces are the most capable they can be.
“Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of role,” Panetta said Thursday in a statement. “The department’s goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender.”
President Barack Obama hailed the decision made on the recommendation of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“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,” Obama said in a statement.
Panetta said his move reflects the themes of inclusiveness and equality that Obama laid out in his inaugural address this week as guiding principles for his second term. Opening ground-combat units will provide more opportunities for women to serve and to advance their military careers.
The changes won’t be immediate, and they may not wipe away all limits on women in combat. Ending the U.S. ban will open as many as 237,000 positions to women by January 2016, the date set for final implementation, according to a defense official who asked not to be identified.
The military services have been directed to have plans completed by May 15, the official said.