Staff and wire reports
Niagara Gazette — The lifting of a ban on women serving in combat will have an immediate impact on female troops interested in officer and non-commissioned officer positions at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
The New York Army National Guard announced Thursday plans to begin moving women into positions in combat battalions following a proposal announced by the U.S. Department of Defense to change a long-standing policy that previously barred women from serving in ground combat units.
According to officials at the National Guard, the Headquarters Troop of the 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry, located at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, will be involved in the initial test program.
The changes announced Thursday will allow female officers and non-commissioned officers to serve in up to 350 positions which currently only male soldiers are authorized to fill. Selections of eligible female soldiers will begin as early as May.
In addition to the 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry, the change will impact the Headquarters Companies of the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry and the 1st Battalion 258th Field Artillery in New York City as well as the Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry in Utica.
The units are elements of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Syracuse, which just completed deploying 1,750 Soldiers to Kuwait and Afghanistan. The 27th IBCT is one of nine Army National Guard Brigades that will begin integrating women into battalion headquarters elements as part of this test program.
These include positions as medics, intelligence analysts, human resources specialists, and staff officer jobs such as battalion logistics, intelligence, personnel, chemical warfare, signal or fire support officers.
"I'm confident female soldiers are fully capable of performing critical skills in combat units," said Major General Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General of New York.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced plans to lift the ban on women serving in combat on Thursday, saying women have become integral to the military's success and have shown they are willing to fight and die alongside their male counterparts.
"The time has come for our policies to recognize that reality," Panetta said at a Pentagon news conference with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Panetta said that not all women will be able to meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier.
"But everyone is entitled to a chance," he said.
He said the qualifications will not be lowered, and with women playing a broader role, the military will be strengthened.
Panetta said that his visits to Afghanistan and Iraq to see U.S. forces in action demonstrated to him that women should have a chance to perform combat duties if they wish, and if they can meet the qualifications.
"Our military is more capable, and our force is more powerful, when we use all of the great diverse strengths of the American people," Panetta said earlier Thursday at a Pentagon ceremony in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr.
The decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat presents a daunting challenge to top military leaders who now will have to decide which, if any, jobs they believe should be open only to men.
Panetta planned to announce at a Pentagon news conference that more than 230,000 battlefront posts — many in Army and Marine infantry units and in potentially elite commando jobs — are now open to women. It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend and defend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions, such as Navy SEALs or the Army's Delta Force.
The historic change, which was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.
The change won't take place overnight: Service chiefs will have to develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions, a senior military official said. Some jobs may open as soon as this year, while assessments for others, such as special operations forces, may take longer. The services will have until January 2016 to make a case to that some positions should remain closed to women.