US Women In Combat: Pentagon Overturns Ban

The US Department of Defence has officially dropped the military's ban on women serving in combat, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has announced.

"Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military's mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles," Mr Panetta said in a statement.

"The Department's goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender," the Defence Secretary added.

The ground-breaking move opens up more than 230,000 battlefront posts and potentially elite commando jobs for women after more than a decade at war.

The decision, recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.

President Barack Obama issued a statement in support of Mr Panetta's decision to lift the ban.

"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," Mr Obama said. 

"As Commander in Chief, I am absolutely confident that - as with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell - the professionalism of our armed forces will ensure a smooth transition and keep our military the very best in the world."

Former US Marine Lance Corporal and Iraq veteran, Dustin Pennycuff, expressed concern to Sky News over the decision, saying military commanders "need to take every aspect and possible effect into consideration".

He said: "All combat personnel should be able to meet the same physical standards as those in place based on the mission of that particular unit.

"Simple fact that a 120lb (54kg) woman is likely not going to be able to pull a 250lb (113kg) man with all of his gear out of a burning Humvee,” Mr Pennycuff wrote in an email to Sky.

He also said the unfortunate possibility of a rise in sexual harassment within combat teams could "cause severe problems for all involved and damage the integrity of a unit," and he hopes a plan is in place to handle these risks "while maintaining the combat effectiveness of the units".

"The integrity of a unit is the most important aspect on a battlefield and whether people like these points or not, it is the truth about the society we live in," he added.

Fellow Iraq veteran Alma Felix hopes the new rules to open combat jobs to women will lead society to recognise that female troops can be courageous warriors.

"Maybe it will put more females forward and give people a sense there are women out there fighting for our country. It's not just you're typical poster boy, GI Joes doing it," the former Army specialist said.

It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions, such as Navy Seals or the Army's Delta Force.

The armed services will have until January 2016 to carry out the changes.

US commanders began taking a second look at the ban in 2010 to reflect the changing reality on the battlefield, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put women in harm's way.

Women comprise 14% of the 1.4 million active military personnel.