Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially lifted the combat ban on women Thursday, and military leaders in Eastern Carolina responded to the news.
Officials from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point released the following statement:
"The Commandant and the entire Marine Corps are dedicated to maintaining the highest levels of combat readiness and capitalizing upon every opportunity to enhance our warfighting capabilities and the contributions of every Marine; it's simply the right thing to do.
Our ongoing deliberate, measured and responsible approach to validate occupational performance standards for all Marines is consistent with SECDEF's decision to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women.
As our Corps moves forward with this process, our focus will remain on combat readiness and generating combat-ready units while simultaneously ensuring maximum success for every Marine. The talent pool from which we select our finest
warfighters will consist of all qualified individuals, regardless of gender."
At the Pentagon Thursday, Defense Secretary Panetta announced that the military will integrate women into combat units "expeditiously," but without hurting the effectiveness and morale of the armed forces.
"The fact is, they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission, and for more than a decade of war they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism," Panetta said. "American men and women already are fighting and dying together overseas, and the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality."
Lifting the combat ban on women opens up more than 230,000 battlefront posts to female service members. The change won't be immediate, however. Panetta has asked the military branches to submit plans by May on how to integrate women into combat operations. He set a January 2016 deadline for branches to implement the changes, giving military services time to seek waivers for certain jobs.
One local female Marine, who did not want to be identified, said the change would likely affect her job.
“It makes me feel better that we're moving in that direction because it won't stop what I can do in my job,” she said.
The Marine, who worked as an EOD technician, said the ban restricted her in her job. She was one of a total of 10 female EOD technician’s in the Marine Corp.
“As a person, if you’re able to do the job, then you should be able to do it,” she said.
Not everyone agreed with the change. Congressman Walter B. Jones released the following statement:
“The Commander-in-Chief should be focused on maintaining our military as the best fighting force in the world, not using it to advance his social agenda. Having had the privilege of representing one of the largest military districts in the country for many years, I have spoken with numerous Marine officers about this topic. They have all voiced their concern. These are men who have been on the front lines and know the horrors of war. When they have reservations, I listen.”
But President Barack Obama expressed his support for lifting the combat ban on women. In a written statement, President Obama said allowing women to serve in combat was another step toward the country's founding ideals of fairness and equality.
"[Thursday], every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger, with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love," President Obama said.
The president said he was confident that the decision, coupled with the recent repeal of the ban on gays in the military, would strengthen the U.S. military.