Female veteran lauds new policy on women in combat

(CBS News) THE PENTAGON - The major policy change coming to the U.S. military has made a lot of news this week: Women will soon be eligible to serve in combat units in jobs that have always been off limits.

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey signed an order ending the ban on women in ground combat, it came too late for Col. Christine Stark's career. But it was a triumph nevertheless.

When she joined the Army, Stark wanted to be an officer in the infantry, but had to settle for the military police.

"It was one of the few that was open to me back in the early '80s, where I could actually lead troops and do what I wanted to do in the military," she said. It was as close to ground combat as she could get.

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She rose to colonel, getting shot at during two tours in Afghanistan, but even as an MP, her gender kept her from being assigned to front-line units.

Christine Stark while she was on deployment in Afghanistan.
Christine Stark while she was on deployment in Afghanistan.
CBS News/Personal Photo

Stark said she resented the restrictions in a lot of ways. "I had been born and raised that I could do anything, and then to have someone tell me because of my gender I couldn't have certain positions?" she said.

When asked if there is a sisterhood in the Army that's applauding the decision, Stark said "absolutely."

"This has been a landmark decision," she said.

Right now it's only a piece of paper, which will take years to implement.

Stark said that some men in the Army will accept the decisions; others will be more resistant. "But I think it's only a matter of time before women just prove them wrong," she said.

Stark also said she had no doubt about women being able to succeed in combat arms, although she doesn't expect them to be lining up. "I think there will be some that want that opportunity, and many that don't. There's many males that don't sign up for combat arms."

One way to measure the effect the combat ban has had on the careers of women in the Army: Women make up 14 percent of the Army, but only 7 percent of the generals.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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