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TMCNet:  The York Dispatch, Pa., Larry Hicks column

[January 30, 2013]

The York Dispatch, Pa., Larry Hicks column

Jan 30, 2013 (The York Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- This is not the first time Americans have faced the question of whether sending our women into combat is the right thing to do.

I recall debating the issue 20 or more years ago, when one of my friends said he didn't see any reason why women shouldn't serve in the military and do equal time with men in combat units.

I disagreed. It just wasn't something I was comfortable with.

And for a while, I got my way.

But then women started fighting and getting killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The debate was over about women going to war. They went, and they more than held their own. It's what they wanted to do. It was their choice.

And I'm one who thinks it's important that women have every opportunity in life open to men. No exceptions.

Now that includes the military.

Officially.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed an order last Thursday giving women in the military the same opportunities as men.

In this case, "same" means "all." That means more than a quarter-million jobs have been opened up to members of every branch of the military regardless of gender.

And that includes serving in combat units in the most dangerous combat situations, joining commando raids, doing battle with terrorists, being accepted as members of the elite fighting forces -- the Navy SEALs, the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Delta Force, Air Commandos and Marine Recon.

My brain says it's the right thing to do.

But I still don't like it.

I had a mother. I have a daughter. I have three granddaughters. Many of the most important people in my life have been women.

And I'm glad none of them have gone to war. Yet. That could change, of course, with my granddaughters, but I pray it doesn't.

Does that mean the women in my life are more precious, more important, more valued, than the men in my life Of course not.

I was lucky my son didn't go to war. I won't be disappointed if my grandson doesn't have to go, either.

Because my father did serve in World War II, and it changed him. So much so he refused to talk about it even 30 years later. He'd been shot at, and he returned fire on the enemy, and both scared him half to death.

I couldn't possibly want that for the women in my life.

For me, it's a generational thing, I guess. I'm an old fogy.

My personal reluctance notwithstanding, it doesn't mean women shouldn't have those opportunities.

Fifty years ago, there were limits on women fighting for their country. Boys signed up for the draft; girls didn't have to. It's how we protected our young women from pain and suffering back in the day.

We felt that was the right thing to do.

But times changed. Women started spreading their wings back in the '60s, and they never stopped.

For a while we (men -- fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, husbands) were able to hold them off by saying they weren't physically capable of doing the job, whether it be police officer, firefighter, EMT, construction worker or the military.

For the most part, that wasn't true. Over time, the women proved it.

As it now stands, women make up 14 percent of the U.S. military. Almost 300,000 women have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other battle zones in the Middle East.

And 152 of them have died while fighting for their country.

"Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier (women or men)," Panetta said. "But everyone is entitled to a chance." He's right about that, of course.

So I've accepted it.

But I still don't have to like it.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.

___ (c)2013 The York Dispatch (York, Pa.) Visit The York Dispatch (York, Pa.) at www.yorkdispatch.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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