WASHINGTON (January 24, 2013)—Saying that allowing women to serve in combat marks another step toward the country's founding ideals of fairness and equality, President Barack Obama expressed strong support in a written statement Thursday after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat Thursday.
“This milestone reflects the courageous and patriotic service of women through more than two centuries of American history and the indispensable role of women in today’s military,” the president said.
“Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, including more than 150 women who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan—patriots whose sacrifices show that valor knows no gender,” he said.
Mr. Obama said he is confident the decision coupled with the recent repeal of the ban on gays in the military will strengthen the U.S. military.
"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,” he said.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday he believes the rise in sexual assaults in the military was linked to the ban Panetta lifted Thursday, which he said created separate classes of personnel, male 'warriors' and the rest of the force, including women.
Dempsey says the sexual assault problem is more complicated than that, but he indicates the disparity between the roles of men and women in the military created a psychology that lends itself to disrespect for women.
Treating the genders equally, he says, is more likely to lead people to treat each other equally.
Gen. Dana Pittard, the commander of Fort Bliss in El Paso, said Thursday that allowing women to serve in Army combat positions is "the right thing to do."
Pittard, speaking at a news conference Thursday shortly after Panetta announced that the had been lifted, said women have shown interest in joining combat positions and that it should not pose a significant challenge as most of the Army's units already are integrated.
He compared the development to previous steps taken by the Army toward integration, like desegregation in 1948 and allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in 2011.
Iraq veteran Alma Felix, 27, said Thursday she hopes the U.S. military's new rules to open hundreds of thousands of combat jobs to women will lead society to recognize that female troops can be courageous warriors.
She said women have proven themselves over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and have come home with the feeling that few know of their contributions.
"We disappear into the background,” she said.
Across the country, members of the military of both sexes said they accepted the new policy so long as women will have to meet the same standards as their male colleagues, but others believe the public may not be ready to handle seeing more female troops come home in body bags or with lost limbs.