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Veterans Discuss Women in Combat

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 24, 2013

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JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. military has a new order of the day: working up plans for putting women on the front lines. The process was set in motion today at the Pentagon.

LEON PANETTA, Defense Secretary: Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance.

JEFFREY BROWN: With that, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, joined by the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, announced he's ending a 1994 ban on women in combat roles.

LEON PANETTA: As secretary, when I have gone to Bethesda to visit wounded warriors and when I have gone to Arlington to bury our dead, there is no distinction that's made between the sacrifices of men and women in uniform. They serve, they're wounded, and they die right next to each other. The time has come to recognize that reality.

JEFFREY BROWN: Nearly 300,000 women have deployed over the past 11 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the front lines aren't so clearly drawn. And 152 have died. Today's decision opens up some 230,000 battlefront positions to women, many in Army and Marine infantry units.

Commanders will have to decide whether women will be eligible for elite forces, such as the Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force.

LEON PANETTA: And let me be clear. We're not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job. If they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.

JEFFREY BROWN: The move drew wide praise from women's groups and others. But one former member of Delta Force, now with the conservative Family Research Council, called the move -- quote -- "another social experiment."

Jerry Boykin said in a statement that commanders "will now have the distraction of having to provide some separation of the genders during fast-moving and deadly situations. Is it worth placing this burden on small unit leaders? I think not."

Panetta's announcement followed a House hearing yesterday on sexual misconduct in the military. A recent study found that in 2012 alone, there were some 800 reported incidents. Today, General Dempsey said ending the ban on women in combat will make a difference.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman: When you have one part of the population that is designated as warriors and another part that is designated as something else, I think that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to that environment. I have to believe the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.

JEFFREY BROWN: The decision comes nearly two-and-a-half years after the repeal of another ban, "don't ask, don't tell," which barred gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

GWEN IFILL: And we return to the decision to lift the ban on women in the military. For more on how this came together, and what comes next, we turn to Colonel Ellen Haring, who was in the Army nearly 30 years when she filed suit against the Defense Department after being denied the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan. And Wade Zirkle, he served two tours in Iraq as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, and he earned a Purple Heart.

I guess I will ask both of you, starting with you, Colonel Haring, what is good and what is bad about this change?

COL. ELLEN HARING, U.S. Army: Well, I think pretty everything is good about the change. It opens a vast number of opportunities to women across the military. But I really think this is a win for not only women, but also our military and really the country broadly.

GWEN IFILL: OK.

I would ask Wade Zirkle the same question.

WADE ZIRKLE, Former Marine Corps officer: Sure, Gwen.

I think this is generally good. I think your viewers need to understand that this is merely the lifting of a ban, and now the service chiefs need to decide exactly how it's going to be implemented. So there still will be some occupational specialties that will be restricted from women.

So I think generally it's good. It's good for women, it's good for the military, it's good for our country, although there are a lot of questions as to how it will be implemented.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let's walk through these, starting with you Colonel Haring.

Today, at the briefing at Pentagon, when Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey were asked about this, reporters said to them that they wanted -- noted that both of them had mentioned that unnecessary gender barriers would be removed. And the reporter asked, what are the necessary gender barriers? So let me ask you that.

ELLEN HARING: I don't see any necessary gender barriers. And I'm not sure what that was in reference to.

GWEN IFILL: Well, there are questions that have been raised about women's ability to perform in combat situations. And you say there are no barriers to that?

ELLEN HARING: Well, if we establish one standard for all, there is no barrier. It's whoever can meet that standard. And I'm assuming you're talking about physical standards.

GWEN IFILL: Yes, that's the question that's been raised.

ELLEN HARING: Yes, right. And I have heard the secretary say that -- go ahead.

GWEN IFILL: Well, finish, Colonel Haring.

And then I'm come to you, Mr. Zirkle.

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