Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision this week to formally lift the ban on women in combat drew praise and concern from soldiers on Fort Drum.
Panetta's action rescinds a 1994 Pentagon rule that officially barred women from direct combat roles, though in reality women have "frequently found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan," the New York Times noted.
More than 130 women have died in the two wars, the newspaper reported.
Panetta's action gives the branches of the military some leeway - until 2016 - to make final decisions and seek exemptions. But in general, women are supposed to be allowed into combat as quickly as possible.
Sfc. Michele Hopkins of the 10th Mountain Division recalled that when she joined the military in 1980, "98 percent of the jobs" weren't open to her.
"I believe that if a woman can do the job, it should be offered to her," she said.
Aside from the sheer number of jobs opened up by making women eligible for combat, the change will have another effect. Time in combat can play a key role in getting promoted.
"I guess if a woman wants to do something like this - it's not for me - but if a woman wants to do this to advance her career, more power to her," said Pfc. Samantha Pimentel.
Still, some soldiers worry how men will react to fighting alongside women.
"I feel that males tend to, by nature, take care of females," said Sgt. Toni O'Neill. "And if they're out there on the front line with females, it'll endanger the males more."
Sunday, July 5, 2015, Watertown, NY