Revised regulations will soon allow women positions closer to live combat, the Pentagon announced Feb. 9.

Under new regulations, positions such as tank mechanic and field artillery radar operator will be opened to women in the Armed Forces.

Currently, the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule prohibits women from taking positions that will place them in direct ground combat. This in turn creates fewer opportunities for promotion and makes it harder for women to rise through the ranks. With the reversal of this part of the law, 13,139 positions that require a physical presence in a combat zone will now be open to women.

Warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has redrawn the linear and clearly defined lines of battle in previous eras. Today’s servicemen and women encounter roadside bombs and explosive devices just as easily on the side and back, where women have been relegated, as on the front lines.

Statistics released by the Department of Defense show that 144 women have given their lives in the two conflicts, with 865 returning home injured. Of the 205,000 Americans currently serving in Afghanistan, roughly 20,000 of them are women.

“Women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission. Through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill, women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in a statement. “We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so.”

Changes to the 1994 regulation will also create an exception for women holding positions with intelligence, communication, and logistics. Women are currently not allowed to hold those positions at the battalion level at which direct combat will occur, which in turn restricts them to brigade service. A brigade is formed from battalions, and battalions are comprised of companies that are made up of platoons. Women will now be allowed to serve in the smaller units at the battalion level, which opens up another 1,200 jobs for women.

“Gender-neutral physical standards ensure all members can meet the physical demands of the duties they are assigned,” acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jo Ann Rooney said, “ultimately contributing to higher states of readiness through an increased understanding of the demands we place upon our members and by preventing injuries.” The new policies will take place this spring, after Congress has been in session continuously for 30 days.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer