Panetta is the second Pentagon chief in recent years to push a major social policy change as he leaves office. His predecessor, Robert Gates, ended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had prevented openly gay troops from serving.
By law, the Defense Department must submit a report to Congress justifying the change. The policy must be reviewed for 30 days before it can take effect.
Women have long served alongside men in Israel, whose universal conscription laws gives them the choice of military duty or some form of national service. About 1,500 Israeli women are drafted annually into combat units, according to the army’s website. Last September, a female army sniper serving in a co-ed patrol unit shot dead an armed infiltrator along Israel’s border with Egypt.
Cone, the Army training commander, said he visited Israel last summer to learn how the Israeli military has integrated women into its combat forces.
“They have a level of female participation that is probably greater than what we are going to have,” he said. Still, the lesson he said he learned was that “gender truly does not make a difference.”
In recognizing the difficulties that lie ahead, Panetta likened the push toward gender equality with the ending of racial segregation in the military by President Harry S Truman in 1948 and the elimination under Obama of the policy barring openly gay troops from serving.
Such changes “have not come easy,” Panetta said. “They’ve required a lot of sacrifice, a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of leadership. And I think that’ll be the case here.”