EL PASO, Texas -- Reaction to the historic decision to allow women in combat roles was swift at Fort Bliss.
“It’s absolutely the right thing to do," said commanding General Dana Pittard following Wednesday’s announcement made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Most of the 230,000 combat jobs that will open up to women are in the Army, giving them the opportunity for higher pay and a path to leadership.
“It’s about time they let women have those options -- if they want them,” said Marlana Quendau, 27, who has served eight years in the Army.
“If they want to do combat, they should be able to do it,” said Michael Bennet, another Fort Bliss soldier.
But, some are concerned about the physical capabilities of women in war zones.
“If I’m going to get evacuated and someone’s going to pull me out of a combat situation where I’m injured and something’s going down, I don’t want to be left there by someone who can’t pick me up and move me,” said Fort Bliss soldier Staff Sergeant Kevin Denis.
Women can score lower on physical training tests, but General Pittard said they will have to meet the same combat standards to serve on the front lines.
“We’re going to make sure readiness is not sacrificed in anyway and we’re able to do the mission,” said General Pittard. “That’s just not debatable”
Right now, women face combat situations in their support roles and 15 percent of soldiers serving in Afghanistan are women.
“We have female soldiers in harm’s way every single day. Right here at Fort Bliss some of the soldiers we’ve lost are females,” said Pittard.
All branches of the military have until May 15 to submit a plan for complying by 2016. The leadership at Fort Bliss expects to do that well ahead of schedule since most units now include women.
General Pittard compared this latest development to other historic moments including rescinding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays members of the military, as well as the integration of the military in 1948.
“In many ways, the Army has led the way for societal elements to be integrated. I’m a product of that foundation from 65 years ago,” Pittard said.
Former soldier Isis Costa heard the news about the lifting of the ban on women in combat on a playground with her three-year-old daughter. She served in Iraq.
“When I was in the military, I wish I would have been able to do combat, but unfortunately that was not an option," Costa said.