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Military Changes Policy On Women In Combat, Special-Ops

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Women are about to be allowed into the most demanding—and dangerous units in the nation’s military.  And many female veterans say:  it’s about time.

“I am so proud that our nation is moving forward in accepting the fact that women can do the same job that men can do,” says Lisa Skier of Richland Hills, “with the same training.”

When Skier joined the Air Force in 1975, she says women were still rare in fields like electronics.  “That was just not something a woman did.  It was difficult because there were so few of us doing the job.”

Over the years, more women have pursued military careers.  But, certain infantry and front line positions were still off limits.  Not anymore.  Under a plan just made public, military officials will gradually begin tearing down barriers that prevented women from holding down thousands of combat and special operations jobs.

As the Department of Defense works to craft gender neutral requirements for a number of positions, a  top general says cultural, social and behavioral concerns may be bigger hurdles than physical fitness requirements for women looking to move into the military’s special operations units.

Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, director of force management for U.S. Special Operations Command, says “the days of Rambo are over.”

He says he has seen women working alongside special operations teams in Afghanistan who met difficult physical requirements. But he says the commandos usually deploy as small teams, often with a dozen or fewer troops, in austere conditions for long periods of time.  He says he is more concerned about the men’s reactions to having women in their ranks.

Although Skier says she never longed to serve in combat positions, she feels strongly that women should have the opportunity to do so if they choose.

“They’ve carried weapons right next to their fellow soldiers and shown that they can do the job that they have been trained to do and they don’t need the protection any more than the men need the protection.”

Military officials say the process of integrating women into combat positions will happen gradually over the next couple of years with full implementation expected by January of 2016.  But, allowed that following more study, there may be exceptions.  A defense department report to Congress later this summer is expected to lay out more specifics.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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