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News of military women being allowed in combat zones met with cheers in Utah

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23 2013 8:56 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — When Army National Guard Spc. Jeremy Pierce heard Wednesday that a decision allowing military women into combat positions was on the horizon, he thought first of his wife, then of the women he served with on a recent tour in Iraq.

"In the military, you train for combat," he said, "and if a woman is able to pass training, then it's my belief she can be effective and an efficient asset in a combat environment."

Pierce is a fourth-generation veteran, with Army service tracing back to his great-grandfather. His wife, Brittany, is a lieutenant in the National Guard. She is also four months pregnant with their first child.

The Cedar City couple met during their military training while they were students at Southern Utah University. They also trained and studied together in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"As far as my wife going into combat, like I said, every officer in the military trains for combat, so I think she'd do just fine," he said.

While Brittany Pierce's career path in the Army is already set, Jeremy Pierce said he believes opening infantry positions to women will open doors down the road for new military members.

"I think this is kind of a landmark decision because women could join the field artillery before, but in the Army, no woman could join the infantry," he said. "Could you imagine being the first woman who's an infantry officer? That's pretty amazing."

An official announcement about the military's change is expected to be made Thursday by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

J.J. Allen, a Navy veteran, served 10 years, including a year in the Middle East where she worked on a private security detail for high-ranking officials. Allen now works at the VA hospital at the University of Utah.

"My reaction was, 'Yes! Finally!'" she said. "Finally it came out and we're exposed. Actually, it's always been there. We've always been in combat."

Allen said her deployment took her to combat zones, like many other women who have done equally dangerous work as their male counterparts, but often in different roles. Now, the progress is official, she said.

"We're moving forward for women," Allen said. "If you can do the job, do the job. … I don't think it should have anything to do with if you're a man or a woman." 

Because lines on a battlefield are not clearly drawn, the new policy will change in name what already is happening in combat zones, said former Utah gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke, a retired major general in the Army Reserve.

"I think we, both in the military and as Americans, have thought it's just not the place in which we'd want to put the women in our lives, in battle," he said. "But they're there. They're already fighting, and they're fantastic soldiers."

Cooke said he doesn't anticipate the change will be difficult, because "in the military, when they're told to transition, they transition."

Contributing: Jed Boal

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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