Pentagon to open combat jobs to women

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POSTED: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - 3:15pm

UPDATED: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 12:17pm

Female soldiers served alongside men in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq but a 1994 Defense Department rule has always prohibited women from fighting on the front lines.

Now, after more than a decade of war, combat situations will no longer be off limits to female troops.

"If the women can't meet the standards then they don't get to graduate from the program but if they can meet the standards then we gain another soldier who is willing to serve this nation and willing to lay their lives down in a combat roll and that's good for our military," says U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to make an annoucement tomorrow that the Pentagon will lift the ban, and women will fight in direct combat, like infantry and artillery.

Fort Bliss will not comment on the expected announcement just yet, or discuss what exactly "lifting the ban" will mean for combat jobs available to women.

But Captain Cassie Wyllie is a female soldier at Fort Bliss who has been in combat and is an apache attack helicopter pilot, flying this type of aircraft in training and war.

"It's never been, you know, I'm a woman, I'm going to go prove myself and do this job. It was something that I wanted to do and I was lucky enough to have the support from both male and female counter parts," says Cpt. Cassie Wyllie.

Captain Wyllie says gender barriers have never prevented her from pursuing certain positions in the army.

"My mother is a welder. She's the only woman welder where she works. And so, I've grown up, my mom's always told me you can do anything you put your mind to," says Cpt. Wyllie.

While women are not barred from positions like Captain Wyllie's, lifting the ban on gender-based restrictions may encourage more women to serve in those posts.

"Particularly attack pilots, we're few and far between. I was one of four in my last battalion. But I don't ever see it as a hindering or any kind of agenda to prove. I see it as me showing up every day to do my job," says Wyllie.

Military branches will have until January 2016 to look for special exceptions, if they find any positions must remain closed to women.

Fort Bliss currently has a little more than 8,000 combat roles that are not available to female troops.

The Pentagon will announce how the lifting of the ban will be implemented in the next few days. 

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