The ban on women in combat will officially end

Defense Department file photo

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat — even though women actually have been serving in war zones for years, according to several news reports. The decision comes less than two weeks after the Army began allowing women to become special operations pilots and crew chiefs. In November, four female military members filed suit to challenge the ban, which was instated in 1994. The lawsuit argued something many others have claimed — that women are already unofficially serving in combat.

Over the years, people have made silly cases against women in combat, but the prevailing argument seems to have been that women have less upper body strength than men — and so would have trouble carrying heavy rucksacks over long distances or wounded soldiers out of harm's way. But the U.S. isn't fighting trench warfare like it in World War II. It's fighting insurgencies. As the Center for American Progress argued last month, "Policies designed to keep servicewomen from the frontlines of battle cannot be enforced where frontlines do not exist." 

More than 130 women have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Women serve in most jobs in the military, including the most stereotypically macho position like drill sergeant, a job that involves spectacular feats of high-decibel insult comedy, often at wee hours of the night.

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