The combat ban that kept hundreds of thousands of military jobs out of reach for women will now become one more history relic, like the ban on gays and, before that, the segregation of African-Americans in America's armed forces.
"The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote in a January letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is lifting the ban. "We are driven by: retaining the trust and confidence of the American people to defend this Nation by promoting policies that maintain the best quality and most qualified people.
No law ever stopped women from serving on the front lines of war. Instead it was a January 1994 memo written by then Defense Secretary Les Aspin that banned women from units "whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.
A decade of war blurred and then obliterated that distinction. In Iraq and then Afghanistan, the front lines were everywhere. More than 200,000 women have served in the two wars. They have been shot down by enemy fire, injured by IEDs, and awarded Purple Hearts. More than 140 have died.
"The fact is, in the nonconventional wars that I've been part of in Iraq and in Afghanistan, there really isn't a meaningful distinction between who is and who isn't a combatant," Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, said recently at the Council on Foreign Relations. "I had the honor to pin combat infantry badges on two women, neither of whom were infantrymen because they can't be—except they are."