The decision to desegregate the military in 1948 was a landmark change. It was likely one of the first major steps toward desegregation of our society as a whole.
Then recently another sea change for the U.S. military was announced when gays – who had long served silently – were allowed to acknowledge their sexual orientation and perform their military duties while being openly gay.
Now comes another tidal wave change for the nation's military with the announcement Thursday that women will be allowed to officially serve in combat roles, a barrier that has long been in place due to concerns about their impact on combat units and out of a desire to protect women from the horrors of the battlefield.
It is notable that some of the basic arguments used to resist these changes have been the same for all three. These are that it would be disruptive to the ability of the military to defend the nation, that the intimate contact required while serving would be inappropriate for mixed groups, and that those involved would not be up to the task of fighting in combat.
All three groups have shown they can serve without disrupting the military. In fact, they have demonstrated that their service actually strengthens the military.
Women are already essential to military readiness. They already serve in many support roles, both at home and on the battlefields.
They also have already been in combat, all-be-it in an “unofficial” way that allows the military to claim they have not been. When women are in combat zones they can at any moment be drawn into combat, even if their military specialty says they are there only for “support.” The have fought, been wounded and died serving our nation and it is shameful that some want to hide their valiant service to protect the myth they aren't in combat.
Now women will get their opportunity to serve in combat roles openly and establish an essential record for their career advancement if they choose to do so. It will be their choice to take on an official combat specialty.
It will be a gradual process as the military maps out the transition phrase, but the change is inevitable. Some women will undoubtedly choose not to seek a combat role, as in also the case with men, but we are confident those who do will successfully meet the challenge, just as they have already been doing.