Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released the following statement today responding to news reports that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to announce that he is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat.
"This is welcome news, and coming so soon after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, demonstrates another landmark victory for equality in our military.
"Generations of women have bravely served our country and have set enduring examples of strength, courage, commitment and leadership for future generations of soldiers, male or female.
"Women like Sara Payne Hayden, a resident of Methuen, MA, who served valiantly as a pilot under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Sara was a test pilot on previously damaged aircraft to ensure repairs were successful prior to their reintroduction into combat service, a dangerous, but critical assignment in the war effort. She is one of only approximately a thousand women to have served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots due to the shortage of male pilots. They were the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.
"While Sara represents one of the first, many women have followed in her footsteps serving in combat bravely and sacrificing much to do so; more than a hundred of whom have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and on visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have personally met with and heard testimony from countless female servicemembers. Servicewomen are every bit as dedicated to serving our nation as their male counterparts, and it is my firm belief that we must do everything we can to enable them to serve honorably and with distinction.
"The announcement Secretary Panetta is expected to make tomorrow will put us on a path to giving women the same access to the protections and benefits afforded the men they serve alongside. It will finally acknowledge the reality of the current nature of war, where the lines between combat and support personnel are not clearly drawn. And, most importantly, it will help us build a stronger armed forces.