Fmr. Joint Chiefs Chair: Women have "great skills" for combat

(CBS News) In a historic policy shift, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the military's ban on women serving in combat positions yesterday, opening thousands of previously inaccessible positions to female soldiers and likely enabling the swifter advancement of female officers.

The move earned Panetta praise from many in the military community, including Gen. Richard Myers, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said today on "CBS This Morning" that the decision rightly gives women "recognition" for the tireless, frequently dangerous work they carry out in the armed forces.

Myers agreed that the ban on women in combat was essentially a "legal fiction" that ignored the reality of women already serving in harm's way. "In the conflict with global jihad -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- there are no front lines," he said. "Anybody can be on the front line. Women are fighting, they're dying and they've shown they have great skills."

"While they're not serving in combat-related jobs," Myers said, "They're in combat, and they don't get recognition for that."

Indeed, there are currently 73,915 women in active duty in the military, and over 130 female soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, an statistic that Myers says may have contributed to the policy change.

On the implementation of the new rules, Myers said, "What we're going to see is a process where the services have to come talk about what positions that have previously been denied to women, which of those will be opened up," Myers said, " and then they have until 2016 to implement it."

Still, while some things change, Myers cautioned, others will remain the same. " As the services look at this," he said, "I think the one thing they'll probably look at is not changing training standards to accommodate women."

"When we brought women fighter pilots into the Air Force," Myers recalled, "we didn't change our training standards, and women are totally accepted as part of the crew force in bombers and fighters and so forth."

And eventually, the change will be reflected at the top. Myers agreed that the rule change would eventually produce a female Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although he cautioned that it will "take time to build."