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The Pentagon's plan to lift the ban on women formally serving in combat is long overdue, say Utah women who served during the Vietnam War as well as in the recent Iraq war.

"It's excellent news. It's way past due," said Barbara Beck, who served eight years as an Air Force medic during the Vietnam War, caring for injured servicemen when they returned stateside.

Sources told The Associated Press that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will announce the groundbreaking change on Thursday. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are recommending the move, which will open "hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after generations of limits," according to the AP.

Women have long been exposed to danger in war, the Utah veterans noted.

Many female nurses in Vietnam were "in harm's way every minute, every second they were there," as were women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Beck, who was a California state judge for 26 years before she retired to Ogden six years ago.

Tara Earl, a student at Utah State University, drove a truck for the Army in Iraq in 2005.

"We went through the front lines and I was in combat," said Earl. "I didn't have to knock down any doors and thankfully, I didn't have to shoot anybody. But I was shot at and my truck was shot at."

The ban, Earl said, created a "glass ceiling" for military women because many of the jobs closed to women were high-paying.

"They'll be able to go into higher positions and move up in the ranks," she said. "There have been little steps through time, but this is a huge one."

Paula Stephenson, who retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 2003, said that nowadays, "Just being in the military, you are on the front line."

Her last non-commissioned officer in her 34-year career was a woman soldier whose arm was blown off by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

"When they say, 'We're opening it up,' I say, 'Big deal," said Stephenson, commander of the American Legion post in Farmington.

"Male or female, if they can do the job, let 'em do it!"

Shanna Summy ran a medical unit before leaving the Army in 2009. A captain, several of her female soldiers were always "attached," but not formally assigned, to combat medical units.

"That's what's always has been astounding to me, that women supposedly can't do the job," said Summy, who is attending Weber State University.

"There are a lot of men who can't do those (combat) jobs which is why they aren't allowed into those programs. If women are given an opportunity and uphold the same standards, then they ought to be able to do it."

Both Earl and Summy — the Iraq veterans — say change will be challenging, though. Male fighters may react differently when their battle buddies — women — are injured and that is a concern, said Earl. Women in training for elite forces also may be bullied, she said.

"It will be kind of a hurdle for men to adjust, but it is definitely time to take on those hurdles."

Summy said that while it will be good for women to have the opportunity, "It's going to be sad from a discriminatory point of view when there is backlash.

"It's more about changing minds than it is about whether women can perform in combat."

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