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Panetta's lifting of women combat ban wins praise

January 23, 2013 |  5:01 pm

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's announcement that the Pentagon was ending the ban on women serving in combat met with praise in some quarters.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Veronica “Ronne” Froman said she was overjoyed and pleasantly surprised that the change happened more quickly than she expected. “This has been what we’ve been working for for a long time,” she said. “Women were the last minority in the Navy.”

Froman, the first woman to command Navy Region Southwest in San Diego, said the change will allow women already serving in combat billets to be recognized for their service. Like some other military personnel, she said she expects some resistance or grumbling in the ranks to allowing women into jobs formally off-limits.

“There is always resistance to change, that’s part of the way things are,” said Froman, who lives in Del Mar. “But they’ll get over it.”

Susan Farrell, who served on a Department of Defense advisory committee that recommended that more jobs be opened to women, lauded the decision as representing “a chance for women to sink or swim on their own merits. That’s all women have ever asked for: a chance to be as patriotic, as giving of themselves, as the men are.”

Farrell, whose father was a career Naval aviator and whose mother served in the Navy during World War II, said the decision “is a reflection of all the good work that women in the military have accomplished when they’ve been given the opportunity.”

Farrell, a former San Diego television reporter, served on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said Panetta seems more interested in politics than combat effectiveness.

“What needs to be explained is how this decision, when all is said and done, increases combat effectiveness rather than being a move done for political purposes — which is what this looks like,” Hunter said. “The idea that every combat mission and future conflict will mirror Iraq and Afghanistan is extremely naïve and shortsighted.”  

Pentagon officials said Wednesday that Panetta gave the armed services until 2016 to ask for special waivers if they believe any positions should remain closed to women.

The decision specifically overturns a 1994 rule that barred women from serving with smaller ground combat units.

Panetta’s decision was seen as a recognition of women’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of the demand for troops, women often found themselves on the front lines serving as drivers, medics, mechanics and in other roles when commanders attached their units to combat battalions. They didn’t receive combat decorations or other special recognition, however.

The contribution of women to the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan was recognized in a statement released by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Pendleton following Panetta's decision:

"The record of our Marines, both men and women, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates the ability of our best and brightest to rise to any challenge."


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Photo: (left to right) Marine Sgt. Sheena Adams, Lance Cpl. Kristi Baker, and Navy corpsman Shannon Crowley in Afghanistan in 2010. The three deployed as part of a Female Engagement Team that allows the U.S. to gain access to places where men cannot.

Credit: Paula Bronstein / Getty Images