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Support locally for shift on women in combat

Kathy Silva of Florence served during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. “We served right alongside guys at that time. As far as serving in combat roles, we’ve been doing it for years — in ships, on aircrafts.”

Silva served in the U.S. Air Force for almost 13 years, including time in the United Arab Emirates during the Gulf War, where she was a food service specialist.

The policy banning women from combat roles, including some of the most prestigious positions in the Army, Navy and Air Force, was put in place in 1994. On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, signed an order allowing women to serve in all combat roles in the military.

Sharon Mixon of Sunderland said Friday she believes women already serve in roles that are just as dangerous as the combat positions that the new policy allows women to hold. That is because “the nature of combat has changed so much,” she said, that many positions that are not traditionally seen as frontline have become extremely dangerous.

“Can women do it, are women capable and should they hold them to the same standard? Absolutely,” said Mixon, who served in the Army and Army National Guard as a combat medic for almost 20 years. “Women will shine, and women will rise to the occasion. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

While Mixon said women should have the right to serve in combat roles, she is concerned that the transition will be difficult for the women who are the first in those positions.

“Is there a price that will be paid by those that pave they way? Yes. So is that price that will be paid worth it, in terms of what they’re going to go through to be there?” she asked. “Only time will tell.”

The U.S. military services must draft plans to allow women in combat roles by May 15. Some positions could be open to women within the year.

Bill Moore, a veteran of the Air Force and the president of Project New Hope, a Leicester-based program that offers retreats for veterans and their families, said his organization began running a retreat specifically for women veterans in 2011 and more than 70 women attended the retreat in 2012.

“I applaud this decision. It’s about time that they changed this outdated policy,” said Moore.

His daughter Erin is serving with the Air Force and he said that she updated her Facebook page last night with the message, “About time.”

Lloyd Ewing, a veteran of the Army and the Navy who served in Vietnam, said that he is happy to see women serve in combat roles as long as they pass the same qualifying tests as men.

“I would serve right alongside of a woman in a combat situation,” said Ewing, who was at the Florence VFW on Friday. “If they’re qualified and capable of doing the job, then let them do it.”

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