I helped open all military jobs to women. We can’t go backward

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Leon E. Panetta, the chairman of the Panetta Institute, was budget director and White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and defense secretary and CIA director under President Barack Obama. Six years ago, I had the honor of ending the final vestige of overt gender discrimination in the government, when, along with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, we opened all military jobs to qualified women. People often ask me whether the decision to put women on the front lines of combat was a difficult one. It was not. When we made the decision, many women were already serving in combat zones. Moreover, the military has a responsibility to uphold the most fundamental American value of equality of opportunity for all. With that equality comes responsibility. Last month, a federal court in Texas agreed, holding that the selective service registration requirement should apply to women as well as men. This ruling may cause the Trump administration to reinstate the combat exclusion rule. It would be a grave, not to mention unconstitutional mistake. The fact is, our military readiness has improved by giving every qualified individual the opportunity to serve. Since 2013, women have done the hard work of breaking through the previous barriers in a series of remarkable firsts: the first women to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School, the first woman to graduate from the Marine Corps’ infantry officer basic course, the first women to integrate into Army infantry units, the first woman to become an Airborne Ranger, and just this year, the first woman graduated from the Marine Corps’ highly challenging Winter Mountain Leaders Course. This list will continue to grow until a woman has occupied every job previously closed to them, up to the very top of the chain of command.

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