WASHINGTON — The historic decision to lift the military’s ban on women in combat had its roots in the personal experiences in war zones of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both men said on Thursday. For General Dempsey, it all began in Baghdad.
He had just arrived there in 2003 as a division commander, he said at a Pentagon news conference, when he clambered aboard a Humvee and asked the driver where he was from. “And I slapped the turret gunner on the leg and I said, ‘Who are you?’ “ General Dempsey recalled. “And she leaned down and said, ‘I’m Amanda.’ ”
As people chortled, General Dempsey continued: “And I said, ‘Oh, O.K.’ So a female turret gunner is protecting a division commander. And it’s from that point on that I realized something had changed, and it was time to do something about it.”
Almost a decade later, General Dempsey and Mr. Panetta signed a document formally rescinding a 1994 ban that restricted women from infantry, artillery, armor and other such combat roles. “Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier,” Mr. Panetta said, “but everyone is entitled to a chance.”