BARSTOW • Women will officially be allowed in combat for the first time in U.S. history, the Secretary of Defense announced last week, and Fort Irwin's commanding general says he welcomes the change.
"Since the onset of the conflict (in Afghanistan), I've seen men and women do exciting things on the battlefield and that is truly amazing," Brig. Gen. Terry Ferrell said. "The enemy we face doesn't distinguish between men and women."
Ferrell said the National Training Center has placed women in different Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) since May 2012.
"From a normal progression, it's not surprising," he said. "Our military is ever evolving and we recognize that. This is another opportunity to go forward and give women the same opportunities."
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michaele McCulley, the officer in charge of the Goldminer Team at Fort Irwin and the second woman to hold the title, said the change is a step forward and means women serving in logistics can now be assigned to combined arms units.
"For me personally as a Lt. Col. it makes no direct impact, but for a younger officer or soldier it could because now there are other opportunities," McCulley said.
McCulley said allowing women in combat has been a topic of discussion throughout her 21 years of service. As the commander of the Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment — a battalion-size unit with over 700 assigned soldiers in Afghanistan — she said her logistics team delivered supplies and drove on the same roads as infantry soldiers assigned to combat engagement.
"Our Army has some flexibility now in the logistics field," she said.
Sgt. Natasha Mackenzie, a combat photographer from the Operations Group at Fort Irwin, deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. She said her tour ended early after she was knocked out by a boulder in an RPG blast.
"I think it's good that things are changing," she said. "I believe it's the future. We're moving on."
Howard "Buck" McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services committee praised the announcement.
"After a decade of critical military service in hostile environments, women have demonstrated a wide range of capabilities in combat operations, and we welcome this review," McKeon said.
The announcement is the beginning of the process before full implementation will take place, according to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Congress will have 30 days to weigh in on the decision and the military services will have until May 15 to report implementation plans, which will be open for exemptions until 2016.
"The fact is, they (women) have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission, and for more than a decade of war they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism," Panetta said during the announcement last week.
According to CNN, women made up 67 of the nearly 3,500 Americans lost in hostile fire in Iraq and 33 of the 1,700-plus killed in combat in Afghanistan. In addition, more than 600 women in Iraq and 300 more in Afghanistan were wounded.
As of September, 418 of the Army's 438 MOS were open to women of all ranks, according to a U.S. Army report.
"We've been running a series of tests already and there will be a very detailed assessment as the process evolves," Ferrell said. "We're opening up a lot of different jobs and work."