McCain: ‘Women Are Already Serving in Harm’s Way’

By Matt Cover | January 24, 2013 | 10:26 AM EST

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (AP Photo)

( - Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) – the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Vietnam prisoner of war – said he supports the military’s decision to allow women into direct infantry combat roles, citing the fact that women already serve in combat.

“I respect and support Secretary Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat,” McCain said in a statement Wednesday. “The fact is that American women are already serving in harm’s way today all over the world and in every branch of our armed forces.”

The move is expected to be announced today by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, based on a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the council of the nation’s highest-ranking military officers.

The move reportedly would allow women into so-called primary combat roles such as infantry and cavalry units. The military recently opened up some combat-related positions to women last year, and the new policy would complete that initiative of allowing women the ability to serve in all military jobs.

McCain said that it was “critical” that as the new policy is implemented that the military not compromise its physical fitness standards – especially for the elite Special Operations forces.

“As this new rule is implemented, it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world – particularly the rigorous physical standards for our elite Special Forces units.”

Women have regularly seen combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, despite being barred from most primary combat units, as the modern battlefield becomes asymmetric – meaning that the historical notion of front lines no longer exists because combat can occur anywhere on the battlefield at any time.

The new policy would repeal a 1994 Defense Department policy that banned women from serving in primary combat roles in the military, relegating them to support roles.