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Local veterans respond to women in combat decision

As a Navy Reserve pilot, Lucy Young flew a transport plane during Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East in the 1990s and another plane used for training and readiness during active duty after Vietnam.

On Wednesday, Young, now an airline pilot who lives part-time in Falmouth, hailed the news that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will lift the military’s ban on women serving in certain combat roles, calling it an advance that began with one of Panetta’s predecessors.

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“It just means that the advancements that were made in 1993 when [then Defense Secretary] Les Aspin opened combat aviation to women has just been expanded to women who are on the ground in the Army doing ground combat,” said Young, clerk of Women Military Aviators, an advocacy group for female pilots and crew in the Armed Forces.

Young, who retired from the Navy as a captain, said lifting the ban will provide opportunities for promotions that had been off-limits.

“It opens up all of the jobs to the most qualified people,” Young said. “And it allows women to get more combat experience, which would give them better shots at flight rank and definitely a better shot at the top jobs at the Army. . . . This is really exciting for all of us.”

Shannon McLaughlin, a major in the state’s Army National Guard who served with the Navy in Afghanistan, echoed those remarks.

“It’s a great move, and I think it’s certainly overdue,” said McLaughlin, of Foxborough. “I think in reality during deployments those lines [between combat and noncombat] are blurry. And certainly we’ve seen women injured and killed in combat. So to see these restrictions lifted formally is a reflection of what’s really happening out in the field.”

‘In reality during deployments those lines [between combat and noncombat] are blurry. ’

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Anne G. Hargreaves, who served as an Army nurse in Europe during World War II, noted that women have served on the battlefield for decades, even if they were not officially classified as combat personnel.

“I served in combat myself out in the fields, living out in tents just like the men did, and did not get recognized for it,” said Hargreaves, 90, a Dedham resident who has served as president of the Women’s Overseas Service League.

Hargreaves said that while the policy change may lead to women in the military being treated more fairly, she has concerns about some of the implications.

“I hope they’re not expecting women to take guns and shoot people,” she said. “I don’t like war, to tell you, and the more I see of it the less I like of it. But, you know, as far as women being aggressive in fighting the war, I don’t favor that.”

Andrew Bacevich, a professor at Boston University and a retired Army colonel who is an influential voice on military policy, declined on Wednesday to extrapolate his position on women serving in combat on the ground.

“Whether I support or oppose is irrelevant,” Bacevich wrote in an e-mail. “This is a change that reflects deep-seated changes in our culture. In every aspect of American life, collective obligation today takes a back seat to individual choice.”

Bacevich, a veteran of Vietnam and the first Gulf War whose son, also an Army officer, was killed in Iraq in 2007, said Panetta’s shift is the culmination of the country’s changing view of military service.

“After Vietnam, Americans abandoned the concept of military service as a collective obligation inherent in citizenship,” he said. “Military service has since become a matter of individual choice and opportunity. Secretary Panetta’s [decision] affirms and completes this change.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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