Defense Secretary Panetta to reverse restrictions on women in combat Thursday

Women-in-CombatMajor media outlets and members of congress have indicated that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected on Thursday to lift the ban on women in the armed forces working in combat positions. Called the Ground Combat Exclusion, the policy restricts women from participating in approximately 237,000 battalion -level jobs in all branches of the military.

Panetta, who is retiring as Defense Secretary in February will direct military services leaders to study the possibility of opening all jobs to women with a requirement to report back to the next head of the department by May 15th with their recommendations, according to news reports.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, founder and co-chair of the Women in the Military Caucus and the second ranked Democrat and highest ranked female on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement today commending Panetta’s decision.

“I have been a firm believer in removing the archaic combat exclusion policy for many years.  I am happy to hear the Secretary will be making significant changes as part of an effort to expand opportunities for women in the military. I look forward to hearing the details tomorrow when I am briefed by the office of the Secretary, and to working to implement any changes that will completely integrate women into the military.”

The ACLU, which filed suit in November of 2012 to overturn the ban, issued the following statement:

“We are thrilled to hear Secretary Panetta’s announcement today recognizing that qualified women will have the same chance to distinguish themselves in combat as their brothers-in-arms, which they actually already have been doing with valor and distinction,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “But we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts.”

The Obama administration ended the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which prohibited Lesbian and Gay service members from openly serving in the military, in 2011.  The announcement today, is one more step in the road to full equality for women in the military.

LacklandIn a separate release, Congresswoman Sanchez announced today that she has questioned key Air Forces officials on the results of an investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force Base.

“The atrocious sexual crimes that occurred on the Lackland Air Force Base are a failure of leadership.  The climate at Lackland Air Force Base has been unhealthy for a very long time, but what really repulses me is how disconnected the leadership was to be completely unaware that such violent crimes were occurring under their watch.

“During the hearing, I inquired as to whether those individuals who had been convicted or are currently under investigation had any record of being involved in unprofessional behavior or sexual harassment cases before they were assigned as an instructor.

“The fact is, even if these instructors had a history of improper behavior and involvement in sexual harassment cases, I have little faith in the current process, that it would have been accurately noted in a service member’s record or tracked for these victims.  And I believe the reason for this is that sexual harassment is not taken as seriously as it should be.

“If an airman or airwoman has a history of involvement in a sexual harassment case, are the hiring commanders aware of this history?  No, because there is strong pushback on noting any sort of sexual harassment history on a service member’s official record as many believe doing so will set a bad precedent. The level of attention paid to sexual harassment is a strong indicator of how seriously the Air Force will handle assault cases.

“What happened at Lackland was a clear indicator that leadership had no sense of the climate on their base.   In the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act, along with Secretary Panetta, actions were implemented requiring that climate assessments be conducted. However, I have concerns that there is not an accountability mechanism to ensure these assessments are conducted.  I hope to work with Congress along with the Department of Defense to develop this mechanism in order to detect any weaknesses and address the concerns of the service members.”

Keep up the pressure Loretta. We stand with you in support of both equality and accountability.