Panetta: Women Integral to Military

Washington (AP) -

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in lifting a ban on women serving in combat, said 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 Thursday 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.

Panetta is expected to step down as Pentagon chief sometime in February. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has been nominated as his successor, and his Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31.

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 jobs, if any, they believe should be open only to men.