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Washington • Sen. Mike Lee, a new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday he backs the Defense Department's move to allow women soldiers to serve in combat units, a decision greeted with mostly support on Capitol Hill.
"Women play a critical role in protecting the country and I welcome every effort to ensure women have the same opportunity for advancement in our military as men," Lee said in a statement. "The Pentagon's continual review of how this policy change affects our military will be an important step in assuring we maintain readiness."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the new policy Thursday, saying it would be phased in over time and that women may not be able to serve in all roles. President Barack Obama and some members of Congress were quick to back the decision while others slammed it.
Sen. John McCain, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the top Republican on Armed Services, offered his support, while Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told radio host Laura Ingraham that the "nature" of women could leave units at a disadvantage.
"And that's been proven in study after study," said Cotton, a former Army infantry officer. "It's nature, upper body strength, and physical movements, and speed, and endurance, and so forth."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, says he still wants to see more details on the change but backs the concept of women soldiers serving in all capacities.
"If our military commanders believe they can be assets and it won't be disruptive, I'm fully supportive," Chaffetz said. "It probably should have happened a long time ago."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, also backs the move, but wants to see how the Defense Department implements it before offering his full-throated support.
"If the commanders recommend this, I'm going to stand by their recommendation, sure," Matheson said.
Only one member of Utah's delegation has served in the military, but Rep. Chris Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, punted on whether he supports the move.
"As a longtime member of the military, I appreciate the sacrifice of all our fighting men and women," Stewart said in a statement that added the congressman wants more information on how it would impact the military before he comments further.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, too, said he wants to know more about the policy shift while Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, declined to comment.