|U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey attend a press briefing in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 24, 2013. Panetta on Thursday announced as part of the department's plans to remove gender-based barriers to service, the Pentagon is to rescind a 1994 rule that prohibits women from assignment to direct ground combat positions. (Xinhua/Fang Zhe)
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday announced as part of the department's plans to remove gender-based barriers to service, the Pentagon is to rescind a 1994 rule that prohibits women from assignment to direct ground combat positions.
"Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military's mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles," Panetta said when announcing the policy change. "The Department's goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender."
The announcement follows a review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which concluded that now is the time to move forward with the full intent to integrate women into occupational fields to the maximum extent possible.
Panetta has directed military services to conduct reviews and make sure congressional notification procedures established by law. While asking the military departments to submit detailed plans by May 15, 2013, for the implementation of this change, and to move ahead to integrate women into previously closed positions, Panetta also demanded the process be completed by Jan. 1, 2016.
The move builds on a February 2012 decision to partially lift the ban by giving women access to more than 14,000 previously closed positions such as tank mechanic and field artillery radar operator.
Women make up more than 14 percent, or nearly 202,400, of the U. S. military's 1.4 million active personnel. Over the course of the past decade, more than 280,000 women have been deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.