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Army colonel: Allowing women in combat a 'watershed moment'

Jan. 24, 2013 at 8:44 AM ET

Allowing women to serve in combat roles shouldn’t compromise the “band of brothers” loyalty that unites servicemen in the field, a retired Army colonel and Medal of Honor recipient said Thursday.

“When people are trying ardently to kill you, it really doesn’t matter to you who is on to the left and on your right as long as they’re doing their job,” retired Col. Jack Jacobs, a military analyst for NBC News, told TODAY's Matt Lauer. “We fight to accomplish the mission. We fight for the country, but most of all, we fight for each other.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will announce Thursday that the Pentagon will lift its ban on female service members serving in combat roles, another step toward making the military fully inclusive. The move follows another monumental policy change the military recently implemented, repealing the ban on openly gay service members.

Jacobs called the decision to incorporate women into combat roles a “watershed moment,” but said the change has an ironic aspect because many women service members already demonstrate battlefield heroism in supposed noncombat roles – such as military police or truck drivers – that get them injured or killed.

Jacobs acknowledged that “moans and groans” already are coming from rank-and-file Army soldiers and Marines, but he said the new combat policy puts the military in a position similar to one it faced several decades ago.

“We heard the same thing when the service academies were integrated with women 20 or 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s actually strengthened the organization.”

Jacobs also discounted the notion that allowing women to serve in combat roles will create a double standard in physical training.

“That’s all a question of leadership,” he said. “It’s essential that the standards remain the same. There’s no reason why both men and women can’t maintain the same high standard of physical fitness, and making sure they do is strictly a question of leadership.”

Although Panetta will be the one to announce the policy change, Jacobs said he doesn’t expect many details to immediately emerge because Panetta is leaving the mechanics to his successor, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has yet to go through the Senate confirmation process.

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