The United States military has once again taken a progressive step in the continuing conversation on inclusion of more Americans in the armed forces. On Jan. 24, out-going Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed an order to lift the military’s 1994 ban on women in combat. The decision to include women on the front line comes a year after the repeal of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Though the action to be more inclusive and accommodating of female soldiers is honorable, certain precautions need to be made in order to ensure the well-being of all military personnel.

For years, women have been serving in combat without acknowledgment. Due to the blurring of front lines during recent wars and the shortage of troops, female members of the military often participate in combat without the title or credit men receive. The decision to repeal the ban — though delayed — will finally give women the recognition they deserve. Women will have a better chance at career advancement in the military with approximately 237,000 combat-related positions now open to female applicants. Better financial compensation and benefits will also be available to women in combat.

Before women are allowed on the battlefield, the military must first make some cultural changes. For decades, reports of rape and sexual assault by military personnel have plagued the United States’ armed forces. The documentary, “The Invisible War,” chronicles the abuse of women in the military over many years. Many assaults are reported to authorities but only 16 offenders have been convicted from 2001 to 2011.

Often times war zones are in areas in which women are not on equal grounds as men. The fear that women may be specifically targeted by enemies on the front line deterred the armed forces from allowing females in combat. However, women in the military may face more risks from other U.S. service people. Women on the front line are often an added bonus to their unit. Civilians are often more likely to cooperate with a female soldier than a male. Women are also able to conduct searches on female citizens in areas where it is culturally unacceptable for men to touch women who aren’t their wives.

According to Panetta and Dempsey, the standards for combat soldiers won’t change, but women will now have the opportunity to apply. “Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier but everyone is entitled a chance,” Panetta said at the order signing. The Pentagon’s repeal of the ban works to share the burden of national defense and allow ability, not gender, to dictate roles. Now, the military’s next step is to make proactive changes within their infrastructure to ensure the physical and mental well-being of each soldier.

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