Pentagon Reversing 19 Year Old Ban on Military Women Serving on Front Lines

A big announcement expected in Washington today about women in the military. 

The Pentagon is reversing its stand on women serving on the front lines, and will announce its opening thousands of front-line combat jobs to female troops.

The ban has been in place since 1994, but today after rolling back the ban on gays in the military, the administration makes a major announcement opening new opportunities for women.

The formal announcement is expected today. Outgoing defense secretary Leon Panetta will end the 19-year-old ban on women serving in combat. "For those who have what it takes, it's a chance for them to have some equal treatment," said Peggy Reiber, Women Marines Assn., North County, CA.

The move could open up 237,000 jobs. 

Women, on the front lines, in close quarters, for months at a time? Not everyone thinks it's a good idea. "The extended endurance that is needed. We have enough problems sometimes with men," said Sgt. Major Mark O'Laughlin, U.S. Marine Corps., Retired.

Last month, the ACLU sued in federal court. Plaintiffs argue keeping women in the background is bad military strategy. "It creates a dangerous set of rules that make it difficult for commanders to decide the best way to fight," said Cpt. Zoe Bedell, Marine Corps Reserves.

Supporters argue women are already in combat. 150 women have died and nearly 1,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth lost both legs flying helicopters in Iraq. "The reality on the ground in a 360 battlefield is that women have been serving in combat" [. . .] "I didn't lose my legs in a bar fight," said Rep. Tammy Duckworth, (D) Illinois.

It's a big step for the 200-thousand women now serving, but some jobs, like Navy Seals and Army Rangers would remain closed. 

This won't happen right away. Military leaders have till mid-May to submit their recommendations, and until 2016 to actually make it happen. 

Tracie Potts, NBC News.

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