By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star
---- — A Thursday decision by the Department of Defense to lift the ban on women serving in combat was applauded by area residents who have served in the military Friday.
Besides the changes announced by Secretary Leon Panetta, the service branches will continue to move forward with a plan to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service by Jan. 1, 2016, according to a media release from the Department of Defense. The New York State Army National Guard announced in a media release that female officers and noncommissioned officers will serve in up to 350 positions that only male soldiers had been authorized to fill, with selections to begin in May.
Three area residents said Friday that it was time to make the change.
Oneonta resident Beth Akulin served in the military from 1979-1994, most of the time as a cryptologic linguist in the Air Force. She is an adjutant in the Oneonta American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War, as well as the local Disabled American Veterans commander.
“I was glad to hear the news,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s a move forward.”
Akulin said that as officials study the situation, it’s natural that some things will move quickly, while others will take time as officials look at all the possibilities. Such things as troop cohesion and logistical support will have to be studied, but women are already serving in combat positions, although they may not be getting the recognition they deserve, she said.
Akulin said she has friends who are serving and they are ready for the change. While Akulin said she would not have taken the opportunity if it was available, she did say it should have been offered.
Oneonta American Legion Post Commander Len Carson said if women can do the job, they should be given the opportunity. People should not be discriminated because of race, sexual orientation or gender, he said, adding that if women can meet the necessary physical tests, there is no reason to keep them out of combat roles.
Wendy York of Otego served in the Air Force from 1974 to 2008. Her longest held position was as a combat medic flying into several war zones, including Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
York described the change as "long overdue," adding that, "We've been in combat for many years."
When asked if she would have taken the opportunity, she declined, saying, “ I never felt I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do.”
York did say that it’s important that women looking for a career in the military know there are no restrictions. Not every job is for every person, but it should not be based on gender, she said.
State Division of Military & Naval Affairs director of public affairs Eric Durr said the state National Guard will serve as one of the test beds for the new policy. The change does not apply to the National Guard 204th Engineer Battalion, which has a company in Walton, because that is not a frontline unit.
The retired National Guard lieutenant colonel said while the military will make a final determination about the issue, it was his feeling that “our female soldiers and officers are incredibly capable and can do the job well. We’ll see how it works when they are integrated into the job.”