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McSally: 'About damn time' for women in combat

McCain sounds cautionary note

The announcement Thursday that the U.S. military will allow women to serve in all roles, including direct combat, was welcomed by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, herself a former Air Force pilot.

"Today's historic announcement finally recognizes that our military is strongest when it prioritizes merit and capability, not gender – and it's about damn time," McSally said.

"Women have been fighting and dying for our country since its earliest wars. They have shown they can compete with the best of the best, and succeed," she said. McSally was the first woman to fly in combat and first woman to command a fighter squadron in U.S. history.

'We select the best man for the job, even if it's a woman.' — McSally

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the ban on women in combat will be lifted within 30 days as the U.S. military builds a force for the future.

"In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest pool," he said.

The Pentagon announced plans to lift the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule two years ago. In 2012, the Defense Department loosened some restrictions on women in combat, acknowledging that many women were already experiencing combat conditions but that the prohibition affected their advancement through the ranks.

Another ex-pilot and Arizona Republican, U.S. Sen. John McCain, sounded a cautionary note.

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The former Navy pilot, the chairman of the Armed Service Committee, said the "decision to open all combat positions to women will have a consequential impact on our servicemembers and our military's warfighting capabilities."

Congress will review the move in the 30 days before it takes effect, McCain said in a joint news release with House Armed Services chair Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican.

The two committees "intend to carefully and thoroughly review all relevant documentation related to today's decision, including the 1,000-page Marine Integrated Task Force report. We expect the (Defense) Department to send over its implementation plans as quickly as possible to ensure our committees have all the information necessary to conduct proper and rigorous oversight," McCain said.

The move will likely require changes to the Selective Service Act, which has required all young men to register for the draft, McCain said.

In 2013, McCain said he supported a move to open combat roles to servicewomen.

'There will be no exceptions.' — Defense Sec. Carter

McSally, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said "we are a country that looks at people as individuals, not groups. We select the best man for the job, even if it's a woman. I couldn't be prouder today of all the women warriors out there who have shown they have what it takes to be the best and serve with the best."

There have been about 250,000 military positions reserved for men only, mainly in Army and Marine infantry roles. But the lengthy conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought increasing numbers of female troops into combat situations.

The move to open all roles to both genders has been opposed by some Marine brass, but the branch will be covered by the decision.

"​There will be no exceptions," Carter told reporters Thursday.

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A military policewoman from the U.S. Army's 284th Military Police Company mans an M-60 machine gun as other members of her company search for unexploded ordnance, in 2011. U.S. were in Iraqi Kurdistan as part of Operation Provide Comfort, a multinational effort to aid Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq and southern Turkey.