January 25th, 2013

The Defense Secretary has announced that the United States Military will no longer prohibit women from holding jobs that require direct combat. Women have been banned from front-line jobs since a 1994 ruling that restricted their role in artillery, armor, and infantry units.

This is an exciting moment for women in the United States military, many of whom have already been substantively serving in front-line combat jobs but without the same pay or recognition for their sacrifice.

The change comes amidst a broader effort to modernize and liberalize the military, including the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy banning openly gay service members. “The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service,” wrote the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the policy change. He also added that the new policy will give women equal opportunity to succeed and advance in their careers in the military.

Each branch of the military has until 2016 to fully implement the change, and there may still be some requests for exemptions for jobs that a particular branch believes should not be held by female soldiers.

While many Minnesota readers probably didn’t think of the ban as an employment law issue, there are some issues regarding pay, benefits, and promotional opportunities inherent in the ban. Late last year the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of four women who were denied promotional opportunities in the military. In one case an Air National Guard pilot was injured when her helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, which would have made her eligible for a leadership role for soldiers wounded in combat. However, she was denied the ability to apply for that job because her experience wasn’t officially recognized as combat.

Serving in a combat position is essential to career opportunities in many areas of the military, so the ban on women in combat prevented them from being promoted to certain roles that were available to male soldiers.

Source: New York Times, “Pentagon Is Set to Life Combat Ban for Women,” Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, Jan. 23, 2013.

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