There is no greater honor and no more horrific experience than serving in combat.

Now women have officially been authorized to serve in combat, sharing the honor and horrors.

For most of us, it wasn’t a pressing national issue. That doesn’t mean the policy excluding women from combat should have continued. It’s a matter of equality and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made the right decision.

In reality, women have already been serving in combat in a variety of roles. They are pilots, machine gunners on convoys and serve as medics, nurses and doctors. There were just a handful of select positions (237,000 out of nearly 1.4 million) in which they were denied that right. The limitations also prevented some females from advancing through the ranks because combat participation is so highly regarded in the military.

The old ideas of “front lines” have certainly been erased. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw to that. And those controversial wars probably contributed to Panetta’s policy declaration.

There have been strong arguments against women in combat, the most eloquent summation by Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker: “Women, because of their inferior physical capacities and greater vulnerabilities upon capture, have a diminished opportunity for survival.”

While Parker’s statement about inferior physical capacities may be generally true, it is also true the armed forces have very stringent standards for serving in combat positions. It doesn’t appear any standards will be lowered because of the policy change, thereby allowing only the most physically fit males and females to qualify.

Unit cohesion is another concern. It is the same old tired argument that was used when the armed forces were integrated. Attitudes won’t change overnight, but eventually they will change.

As far as the sexual aspect, well, the military has rules in place for harassment and against fraternization. The latrine logistics are a minor inconvenience at worst – ask any Hood to Coast runner, for example – and are already being handled in other military outposts.

As for higher vulnerability if a female is captured, the inhumanity and cruelty of torture applies equally across the sexes.

It’s trite but true – war is hell. No one should face that horror unless there are no other alternatives. That’s true for men and women.

Skip Nichols is the managing editor of the East Oregonian in Pendleton, a sister publication of the Blue Mountain Eagle.

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