Defense Department rules are entering the 21st century. The Pentagon will recommend to Congress today that women in the military should be allowed to serve in a greater number of positions close to front lines. The AP notes that the rule shift would formalize a practice that has already been happening: Though women are technically prohibited from serving in combat battalions, over the past decade many have served at the front lines in roles including medic, military police officer, intelligence officer, and helicopter pilot. The military has previously dodged the rule by "attaching" such women to battalions, rather than formally assigning them, meaning the women would not receive credit for serving in combat arms.
The new rules will change that, allowing women to be formally assigned to battalions and serve in those roles, but will likely continue to prohibit them from serving as infantry, armor, or special ops forces. Predictably, the decision has critics on both sides. One retired Army lieutenant colonel who disagrees with the new rules says the issues of "sexual tension" and differences in fitness levels between men and women have not been taken into account. The Service Women's Action Network, however, is pleased with the step but says the ban on women serving as infantry must ultimately be lifted. (Read more US military stories.)