Posted at: 01/23/2013 11:37 PM
Updated at: 01/24/2013 10:07 AM
By: Dan Levy
ALBANY - After generations of limitations on their service, the Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat.
The changes, which affect all branches of the U.S. military, are set go be announced Thursday morning by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Some of the new front line positions for women, perhaps hundreds of thousands of jobs, might be available as soon as this year, even though some special operations positions, including Navy SEALs and the Army's Delta Force, may take longer.
There are already 350,000 American women serving in the military. Breanna Birdsall of Loudonville enlisted in the Army when she was 19. She got injured, received an honorable discharge and says she can't wait to reenlist. If she winds up on the front line of battle, that's OK with her.
"If a woman feels like she can do it, I say let her do it," Birdsall said. "If she can't then she sacrificed her life doing what she wanted to do, fighting for her freedom."
Many people think the battlefield is no place for a woman. They feel coed combat assignments affect discipline and unit morale. In addition, some people question whether women have the strength and stamina for battle.
"The only thing that I would balk at is the physical aspect," said Brian Hudspath of Rensselaer, a retired Army staff sergeant who served with the 1105 Infantry in Iraq. Even though he's fine fighting side-by-side with women, he has one concern.
"If I get hit, I'm a big guy, how is a female going to be able to extricate me from the battlefield?" he wondered.
Birdsall says it wouldn't be a problem for her. In basic training, she points out, she had to drag a 200-pound male soldier 200 yards. She believes there's no job in the military that a woman can't do.
"If you're joining the military, you already have the toughness as it is," she said.
American women have already led men into battle, they've been prisoners of war and they've flown combat aircraft missions. Of the 6,600 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 152 have been women.