Hawaii reacts to change in combat policy for women

3,500 women serving in the military in the state

 UPDATED 9:33 AM HST Jan 25, 2013
HONOLULU -

Women will now be able to serve on the front lines.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement Thursday that lifts the nearly 20-year ban barring women from ground military combat.

It's a move women serving here in the Pacific said is about time.

The faces on the front line are about to change, now that the U.S. military has lifted the ban on women serving in ground combat.

First Lieutenant Ashley Sorensen is a platoon leader for the 74th Ordnance Company EOD, 303rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 8th Military Police Brigade, 8th Theater Support Command, US Army Pacific, Hawaii.  Her job is one of the most dangerous.

“When I was going through school, there were no other options for women to get close to combat. This was it,” said Sorensen.

She said lifting the ban opens many more doors for women in the military.

“It’s a step in the right direction in offering women the opportunities they’re qualified for,” said Sorensen.

Some roles for women in areas such as special forces operations, including Navy SEALS and the Army’s Delta Force may take a while to see change.

But, the U.S. Army Pacific fully supports the Defense Department's decision to lift the direct combat exclusion rule.

“We’ll take a hard look at how they’re going to implement it with the exact ruling. At the end of the day, though, it’s not anything new,” said Col. Mike Donnelly, US Army Pacific Chief of Public Affairs. “Women have been serving in combat roles for a long time now.”

Sgt. First Class Michelle Pierre has served tours in Iraq and in Afghanistan.  She said arguments about physical or emotional differences between men and women don't apply out in the field, where it comes down to how you do your job.

“I feel as if you perform your job, they’re going to treat you the same regardless of your gender,” said Pierre.

Top brass at the US Army Pacific, Hawaii say the move strengthens the military.

“Now they’re going to have the proper training to do the job they’re already doing,” said Capt. Dustin Flowers, 74th Ordnance Company EOD commander.

And in some ways, these soldiers said sometimes the best man for the job may be a woman.

“Women are able to cope just as well as men in any situation, if not, we’re at least better at communicating,” said Sorensen.

Military chiefs must report back to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with their initial implementation plans by May 15.

There are currently 3,500 female soldiers in the military here in Hawaii.

There are 8,474 women soldiers serving in the US Army Pacific that includes Korea, Japan, Alaska and Hawaii.

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