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Soldiers say women welcome in greater combat roles – as long as they can hold their own

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce Thursday that a ban on women serving in combat roles in the military will be lifted over the coming years. Around heavily-deployed Fort Drum, soldiers generally welcomed the news – with some caveats.  

Sergeant First Class James Crawford, a 24-year Army veteran, was having dinner at the Hops Spot, a bar and restaurant in Sackets Harbor, when he heard the news from a reporter. But he says it doesn't signal as big a change as some might think.

“You know, we don't fight wars where there's a line in the sand and you're on one side, I'm on the other – the battle is everywhere,” he said. “So when the fight is everywhere, everybody's included no matter what, whether they're male or female.”

Crawford was recently deployed in Afghanistan, where he drove trucks with a transportation unit. He says the women he worked with then bore the same risks he did, and he supports the expansion of their roles.

“I'm also the father of four daughters, and my daughters can do anything a man can do,” Crawford said.

Specialist Brendan Cotarski was having a beer with a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings, in Watertown. He was still taking in the news. His main concern was that female soldiers be able to meet the physical demands of greater combat roles – what the Army calls your military occupational specialty.

“Honestly, I was surprised and...I don't know, it kinda shocked me,” Cotarski said. “And I just hope that with them being in combat M.O.S.'s, that they keep the same standards, that they don't lower the standards just because it's a female.”

Cotarski worried about the impact of possible relationships between battle buddies.

“Say, like, me and her are in combat together and she gets shot. I'm emotionally attached to her and that's harder for me to, like, grasp, than say if it's one of my fellow, like, brothers,” he said.

Another bar patron was Specialist Alexander Cruz. He says he generally supports the change.

“I think, I mean, I don't have a problem with it, 'cause they've got the right to defend the country, too,” he said. “If they meet all the requirements for them to be there, why not? I mean...they are human beings just like us.”

Cruz, too, though, says women need to be able to hold their own in battle.

“When you go to combat, you've got to carry a lot of stuff, so think about it, if we've got to try to carry somebody else, and carry their equipment also, you're going to be struggling with the mission. But if they can do that, I mean, they're good to go,” he said.

The change is expected to be implemented over the next few years, with some exceptions still possible for women's service.