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Aggies impacted by Pentagon decision to allow women to take combat roles

BRYAN, Texas — A sophomore member of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University said that she can now pursue a long-abandoned dream because of a decision made by the U.S. defense secretary allowing women to pursue military specialties that were previously off limits. The decision lifts a ban that kept women from serving in front-line positions in the infantry or special forces operations.

The sophomore, Leah Gonzalez, a university studies leadership major, had been disappointed when she learned that she could never achieve her dream of being in the Army infantry because of her gender. Instead, she had planned on flying Apache helicopters until yesterday's decision.

"Now it opens up a whole new field of opportunity after I graduate," Gonzalez said. "I was very excited to hear the news. I can do whatever I want to do."

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Gonzales said she plans to seize any opportunity to join the infantry.

"I'm not going to be stuck behind a desk ... I'll be able to be on the front-lines," Gonzalez said.

The commandant of A&M's Corps of Cadets, Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez, said the discussion about whether women should be allowed to serve in front-line positions and special operations forces is nothing new.

"This has been under consideration for a while. Looking at the nature of warfare as we see it today -- asymmetrical in nature, generally unconventional -- it's not the old-style Cold War kind of warfare that guys like me grew up planning to fight," Ramirez said.

Ramirez speculated that the Pentagon's decision was probably influenced by the way war has changed, and cited the type of warfare seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that through assisting roles, women have already faced the dangers of combat.

"Women have been engaged in combat virtually every day," Ramirez said.

Col. Kenneth Allison, the commander of Air Force ROTC at A&M, said that every soldier is at risk, regardless of gender.

"When our female soldiers ... sign up, they are looking to support their fellow soldiers in any way that they possibly can. And, if that means in combat, then they are trained to the utmost level to perform those duties," Allison said.

Moving forward, Ramirez said that there will have to be many discussions on how to integrate women into these new positions, especially when it comes to physical standards.

"Do they alter those standards for females, or do they say, 'Hey, a female has got to live up to the standards that a man does?'" Ramirez said.

Allison said that military leaders will have to consider what functions women can have within a mission, even if they are not necessarily as strong as their male counterparts.

"We often go out as teams and each team member has a different function. So, [females] may be able to perform the overall mission, but be limited to certain positions that they can be in," Allison said.

He added, however, that if a woman can physically perform every function, then she should not be kept from doing so.

Ramirez and Allison said they believe the decision, as a whole, is a good one.

"You're going to have a larger force to draw from. Anyone who's been to Iraq or Afghanistan -- and I've been to both -- knows that women are already engaged in combat, and they've acquitted themselves very well," Ramirez said.

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