Women in combat rules have New York connection

A Pentagon decision that could bring women closer to the front lines has ties to New York State.

Not only would it affect female soldiers stationed at Fort Drum's 10th Mountain Division, but the decision was influenced by two prominent New Yorkers, Army Secretary John McHugh, and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

On Thursday, the Army announced that women would be allowed to serve in 14,000 positions that were formerly closed to them. Many of the positions, such as intelligence officers, will move women into smaller military units whose main mission involves direct combat.

In a report to Congress, the Defense Department pointed out that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have blurred the boundaries of modern battlefields. Officials say the new rules are expected to continue the long-held prohibition that prevents women from serving as infantry, armor and special operations forces. But they will allow more women to serve in other roles at the battalion level, which until now had been considered too close to combat.

In 2005, when he was a Congressman representing northern New York, Army Secretary John McHugh was criticized for attempting to introduce a measure aimed at preventing women from being assigned to units that would be exposed to direct combat. McHugh's initiative was opposed by the Defense Department, but it resulted in a broader review of the role of women in the military.

In June 2011, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand along with 8 other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to the Defense Department criticizing the "inconsistency of DOD's policy with the reality of deployments, stating: 'The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but conventional.'"

Gillibrand pointed out that while women were not allowed to "engage the enemy" or be "exposed to hostile fire," some 134 female service members had been killed in the conflicts and 721 had been wounded.

The Pentagon says the expanded roles for women in the military could be implemented in the spring of this year.

What do you think? Should women play a greater role on the front lines of combat?