|Kiron K. Skinner is director of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for International Relations and Politics, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a Atlantic Council board director|
On January 24, 2013, Leon E. Panetta, then Secretary of Defense, and Army General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State, signed a memorandum rescinding the 1994 ban on women serving below the battalion level and eliminating the remaining sex-based restrictions throughout the services. Panetta’s rationale was lofty: “If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job…then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.” His rationale was also practical: “Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans.” Prior to this announcement, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously endorsed allowing women to serve on the front lines. The decision is intended to be operational by 2016.
In the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, approximately 300,000 women have served in or near combat zones, more than 150 have died as a result of combat or noncombat factors, and nearly 1,000 have been wounded. Furthermore, approximately 14 percent of the 1.4 million active-duty U.S. military personnel are women.