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Female vets cheer new era for women in combat: 'It's about time!'

Women who rode into Iraq during the 2003 Coalition invasion or who withstood on-base mortar attacks that killed other U.S. troops raucously cheered news of the impending lift of the female-combat ban, shouting the same three spirited words.

“It’s about time!” said Laura Cannon, a 2001 West Point graduate who rolled into Iraq with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, spending seven months there. “Women have been on the ‘front lines,’ per se, for years. Now they're getting credit and authorization that is long overdue. The landscape of combat has changed so much that front lines are ambiguous, and frankly, what I believe to be an obsolete concept.”

“Yes!” added Julie Weckerlein, a Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2007, she sought cover and was not far from Army Sgt. Trista Moretti, 27, who was killed when mortars exploded on their base in Nasir Lafitah, Iraq. “There is definitely a sense of ‘it's about time.'

“This decision means the military is finally removing that useless ‘attached, but not assigned’ verbiage that meant absolutely nothing on the field, with the boots on the ground,” she added. Weckerlein worked as an Air Force combat correspondent, traveling throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, documenting the missions of Air Force joint terminal air controllers and Army infantry soldiers at remote provincial reconstruction team locations and at forward operating bases. In other words, she shadowed military men who were doing “male only” jobs.

Women now compose about 15 percent of the U.S. armed forces. 

Placing American women in combat is “a great idea,” especially because "my gosh, women have served in the military since World War I," said Terri Kaas, an Air Force veteran who spent time in Bahrain and Germany.

“Women in the military should be able to do the same jobs as men, whatever the mission is. Though the military has desegregated, women are still treated differently,” in part because they have been held back from combat, Kaas said.

“I know, you still hear: 'It’s a man’s military.' But we are all service members,” she added. “Look at the Marine Corps — they have equal standards of fitness for both genders. If the men can’t respect women for the job they’re doing maybe these men shouldn’t be in the military.”

In fact, argued Cannon, the policy and political path is now clear for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to eliminate “gender-based restrictions on military jobs and career paths altogether.”

“I think every branch should have its own set of criteria and physical requirements, instead of the basic, existing standards that say: men need to do this and women need to do that,” Cannon added.

“Pilots in the aviation branch certainly don't need to physically perform to the same levels as that of infantrymen. So have new standards applicable to every job. Then, if a woman can achieve all of the requirements necessary to enter the infantry — by all means — let her!”

Related: Defense chief Panetta to clear women for combat roles