Growing up in a military family, Army ROTC Cadet Wendy Santiago said the military was in her blood.
When she was planning her future in the service, a ban from 1994 forced the nursing senior to pick only from non-combat military roles.
But a decision by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta earlier this week ensures future generations of females won’t face such limits.
On Wednesday, the U.S. military announced it will allow women to work in combat roles by dissolving a ban that’s been in place for nearly two decades.
“We believe that we should open up service opportunities for women in as much possible,” Panetta said in a press conference on Thursday. “(We’re) moving forward with a plan to eliminate all gender-based barriers for women in services.”
Although women have been kept out of the traditional infantry, Lt. Colonel Jeff McDonald of the MSU Army ROTC said they haven’t been out of harm’s way.
He added women have been in the line of fire for years, and Panetta’s official decision is just a reflection of the direction the military has been moving in.
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McDonald said the military no longer works in the linear formations many people initially think of, and threats to the U.S. stretch across many fields of the military landscape.
“With the number of women who have been killed in combat, it’s obvious that we don’t have these protective linear lines like we used to,” McDonald said. “The enemy can be anywhere and everywhere, and after what we’ve seen in Afghanistan, anybody is at risk on an asymmetric battlefield.”
Jayne Schuiteman, the interim director of the Women’s Resource Center at MSU, said she hopes Panetta’s decision will erase misconceptions that women in the military have been in less danger than men.
Lisa Fine, co-director of MSU’s Center for Gender in Global Context, said she hopes giving women more attention in the military will shed additional light on another threat women face off the battlefield.
There were 3,393 recorded victims of sexual assault in the military, according to the Department of Defense’s annual report for sexual assault for the 2011 fiscal year.
“This is something a lot women are subjected to,” Fine said, citing it as a major danger to women in service that still is overlooked. “With equal footing and recognition, (hopefully) this issue will be addressed more directly.”
Santiago said although she isn’t planning to change her career field within the military, she is happy to see the army considering women’s issues.
“It’s awesome that we’re put back on the same level as men,” Santiago said. “We’re trained the same way that they are, I don’t see any way (that) we shouldn’t be able to fight in combat.”