AP sources: Panetta opens combat roles to women - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

AP sources: Panetta opens combat roles to women

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

A senior military official says the services will develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year. Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including Navy SEALS and the Army's Delta Force, may take longer.

Panetta's move expands the Pentagon's action nearly a year ago to open about 14,500 combat positions to women, nearly all of them in the Army. This decision could open more than 230,000 jobs, many in Army and Marine infantry units, to women.

In recent years the necessities of war propelled women into jobs as medics, military police and intelligence officers that were sometimes attached - but not formally assigned - to units on the front lines.

Joliet native, Dolores Latham, 27, is a bank employee as a civilian and a tough and passionate Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard. She has experienced combat zones first-hand. She says she can now shoot for her dreams of serving on the front-line.

"It's an opportunity because I would like to be in that type of field of work, I would like to be in combat arms," Latham says. "I would be interested in becoming an infantry officer."

Latham comes from a family of servicemen and women. Her father and brother have served in combat arms.

A 1994 pentagon rule prohibited women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units, however, women have been serving alongside combat units as medics or military police.

"The first thing that went through my mind was, it's about time, because women have been serving in combat roles for 10 years," Duckworth says.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth spoke to FOX 32 News over the phone from Washington D.C. She says she chose to become a helicopter pilot in the army because she wanted to service in combat. As a result, she lost both of her legs.

"I chose to be a helicopter pilot because aviation was the only combat arms branch that allowed women to serve," Duckworth explains.

Duckworth says this paves the way for more women to become military generals. Traditionally, officers rise through the ranks through commanding combat arms units.

"This will allow more women to progress and become leaders in miliary at the top levels," Duckworth continues.

Staff Sergeant Latham is hoping she'll be in her new combat position by next year.

"I feel being in combat arms, that's the ultimate sacrifice you can make for the country," Latham says.

The official said the military chiefs must report back to Panetta with their initial implementation plans by May 15. The announcement on Panetta's decision is not expected until Thursday, so the official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Currently, women comprise 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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