ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For 19 years, American women have trained for battles the military wouldn't let them fight. Now, Pentagon says females can officially serve in combat.
"They're fighting and dying together," said US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. "And the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality."
One hundred fifty two US women have died at war since 9/11, yet they were barred from roles like infantry, field artillery and armor.
The new change means females can now hold more than 230,000 new jobs, including those on the front lines.
"This opens up so many more doors for females," said Minnesota National Guard Sgt. Cassie Mecuk, "And for making sure we have the best soldiers to fill those roles."
But that doesn't mean standards will drop. Women will have to pass the same tests as men, and the military vows the change won't affect safety or security.
Minnesota's National Guard is more than 16 percent female, and its leaders say the change is both welcome and wise. "The female soldiers I work with on a daily basis are perfectly capable of doing whatever they set their minds to," said Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Matt Vatter. "There's no limitations."
As proof, some cited women like Tammy Duckworth, a military pilot turned state representative who's a double amputee after serving in Iraq.
Duckworth was asked the question many are asking as the ban was lifted: Are women ready for combat? "I didn't lose my legs in a bar fight," Duckworth said.
The move is not without its critics---both male and female---and those ranging from veterans to lobbyists to current soldiers did speak out, with some saying the new policy is a social experiment that's all about being politically correct. The military has three years to make the change.
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