The state's Commissioner of Veterans Affairs is applauding news that the military is ending its ban on women serving in the infantry and other ground combat. WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil has more from Vietnam veteran Linda Schwartz.
Commissioner Schwartz served in the Air Force from 1967 until the mid-'80s. She says the military has evolved considerably since the time she served as a flight nurse. "Let me just say we've come a long way. When I was in the military in the '60s, I couldn't even be married and then I was allowed to be married but then I had to leave the military if I had a child." Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said he believes women have become an integral part of the military's ability to succeed. More than 20,000 women served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and more than 130 were killed. Commissioner Schwartz says female servicemembers have served on the front lines in support roles and that reality influenced the military to overturn its combat ban. "And also there was an effort to actually ban women completely from combat roles and when they had those hearings in the Congress the military hierarchy came to the table and said that if we can't have women we aren't able to maintain our military strength and maintain two fronts of the war so women have really proven themselves and earned the respect of their male colleagues." Supporters of the change say giving women the chance to serve in the infantry will also help those who want to advance their military careers, an opportunity that in the past depended on combat experience.