"America's brave men and women in uniform."
It's the construction that politicians, elected officials and candidates most often use when they're called upon to publicly honor the nation's armed forces.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta gave those words some added punch with his announcement that women would be allowed to serve alongside their male counterparts in many frontline combat roles.
Panetta's Jan. 24 order overturned a 1994 rule banning women from serving in ground combat units.
According to published reports, Panetta's decision gives the services until 2016 to seek special exceptions for positions they believe should remain closed to female service members. . . .
But Panetta's order is also an explicit acknowledgement of life as it already is for the fighting men and women of the services and the risks that America's daughters, siblings, significant others and wives are exposed to daily.
Women now comprise 15 percent of service members and their blood has proved as red as their male colleagues. In the last decade, 61 female service members were killed in action in Iraq and 23 fell to enemy fire in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. . . .
Panetta's order lifts a barrier to promotion to female soldiers who have been "attached to" or "co-located" with combat units, rather than officially assigned to them, the Times also reported. . . .
But as Panetta made clear, the services' physical fitness requirements will not be diluted to accommodate the roughly 230,000 anticipated combat jobs - primarily in the Army and Marines - to women, published reports indicated.
To be sure, the move would not have been possible without the broader sea change in American culture as a whole that has seen women not only close the gap with men, but exceed them in such areas as education personal freedom. Admittedly much work - notably on wage equality - still remains.
(This is a guest editorial from The (Mechanicsburg, Penn.) Patriot News.)
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.