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Women in combat

The Pentagon is ready to make combat forces an equal opportunity position open to women as well as men. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the lifting of the ban on women at a news conference Thursday.

While the number of female military personnel ready to rush to the front line is unknown, the move is historic, brash and overdue. In our minds, any American willing to wear the uniform and able to handle the physical demands of the job should have the chance to perform. Man or woman.

Women long have been assigned to ground combat units although technically only at the brigade level and above, which allowed many of them to serve in both support staff positions as well as command posts. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many women serving as medics, police and intelligence officers were attached to battalions which got them closer to the action. Given the nature of these conflict zones, battlefield lines are murky at best -- and women have been in the thick of many combat actions. More than 800 women have been wounded; more than 130 have died.

Women have paid the ultimate price for their country, yet have had careers thwarted by not being able to serve officially in combat units. It is only just for such hypocrisy to end. Precious little logic can be found to defend such overt discrimination in the military when glass ceilings have been smashed for years elsewhere in the public sector.

Panetta's announcement, made with unanimous consent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should allow full implementation of the policy by 2016. Military leaders have plenty of decisions to make, although one of them will not be how to lower qualification standards for combat duty.

We don't expect the front lines to be flooded with female recruits. Not all will be able to handle the rigorous physical requirements. Not all males make the grade either. But at least the opportunity to qualify will be there for every brave American that enlists or receives a commission.

"Our military is more capable, and our force is more powerful, when we use all of the great diverse strengths of the American people," Panetta said.

We applaud the sentiment.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net