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The reality of allowing women in combat roles

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Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michelle Mollen
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michelle Mollen of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines Regiment, patrols in Garmser, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on March 12, 2011.
Adek Berry | AFP/Getty Images

In early December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that women would now able to serve in all combat posts in the U.S. military.

"There will be no exceptions," Carter said. 

He ordered all branches of the armed services to submit plans by Jan. 1, and to implement them by April 1. 

"This was really policy catching up with on-the-ground reality," Gayle Tzemach Lemmon told MPR News host Kerri Miller. Lemmon is the author of "Ashley's War," and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

"Women have been serving in frontline roles for a number of years, particularly in the post-9/11 wars, which really had no front lines that anybody could discern. More than 150 women have given their lives in this last decade of war. In many ways, the policy conversation was just trying to catch up with the wars that American already had been fighting," Lemmon said.

Teresa Fazio, a former communications officer in the Marine Corps, agreed, citing many of her peers who had been in combat in the last decade. 

Many people still disagree with the decision, however, including one caller, Chris, who identified himself as Marine. 

"The military exists to win wars, to break things, to kill people. That's the bottom line," he said, arguing that integrated units would undermine the warrior mentality. He also expressed concerns about the possibility of sexual relationships within an integrated unit.  

Fazio said other countries with integrated militaries have overcome any such issues, and the U.S. can do the same. 

"Making sure that those Marines take care of each other first, and the mission, we can get past that," Fazio said.

Lemmon stressed that women have already been in combat roles, and some units have already overcome integration issues, but those stories haven't been shared.

"It's really important to know that women already are in some of these roles. Women are in some of the most elite special operations roles possible, it's just that we don't talk about them, we don't know them, we don't meet them," Lemmon said. "We, as a country, aren't in touch with our military and who's doing what — this is a wake-up call for people." 

To hear the full discussion on the realities of women in combat roles, use the audio player above.