TAMPA - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says removing outdated barriers to women in combat roles will make our military stronger. President Barack Obama agrees.
The announcement on Thursday reverses a 1994 rule barring women from jobs that would likely put them in direct combat. But in our recent Middle East wars, the front lines have become invisible and danger is everywhere.
"There are several women, especially students here at the University of South Florida who have amazing stories of being under fire" said Air Force Veteran Kiersten Downs. Downs who is now working on her doctorate at USF, served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Downs says the new policy is a milestone for women and long overdue. Downs says the lack of recognition of women's sacrifice has made re-entry into civilian life more difficult for veterans like her.
"Even though these women have been performing these jobs, there hasn't been a national acknowledgment of their roles" said Downs.
Secretary Panetta agreed that military careers are hindered by a lack of combat experience and an ABC News Poll shows 73 percent of Americans support women in combat. But there are skeptics like the young soldier who told ABC that women in direct combat will create "sexual tension which can create a distraction that can be life or death."
Illinois Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth who lost both of her legs in combat says men and woman are already sharing dangerous duty.
"We've had women do house to house searches who were medics and supply clerks who were attached to infantry units in Iraq" said Duckworth.
Thursday's ruling will gradually open up some 230,000 positions to women previously off limits. It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend whether women should be included in the most dangerous units such as Navy SEALs or the Army's Delta Force.