Utah soldiers excited for new opportunities after policy change on women in combat

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Before Thursday, more 200,000 jobs in the military were limited to men, but after three years of study and debate a historic announcement from the Secretary of Defense changes all of that. Now, all combat jobs are open to women.

“I joined the guard when I was 17, still in high school,” said Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Skougard of the Utah National Guard.

In her 11 years of service, Skougard has deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan as a crew chief on a black hawk helicopter.

“The opportunities that I've gotten in the guard, there's nowhere else I could have got those opportunities,” Skougard said.

But certain opportunities—like infantry, armory, and some special operations units in the military—were off-limits for women.

“I think just not being afforded the opportunity to try even if you wanted to was kind of a downer,” Skougard said.

That changed Thursday.

“We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country's talents and skills; we have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Within 30 days, hundreds of thousands of openings previously closed to women will be open.

“Just knowing if I wanted to, the option would be available, is motivating,” Skougard said.

The move is making a difference for women already serving and those entering the military.

“We're talking about equality instead of egalitarianism, so now the best-qualified applicant, regardless of gender, is going to get selected to go into all of these [military occupational specialties] that previously females couldn't,” said Lt. Col. Jason Dougherty, Commander of Recruitment and Retention Battalion.

It's opening new doors for leadership and awards, that, in the past, were only given to men.

“They weren't even able to have the opportunity to serve in those positions and those barricades are now gone,” said Lt. Col. Steven Fairbourn, Public Affairs Officer for the Utah National Guard.

There has been push-back from the Marine Corps., who cite studies indicating all-male squads are more effective in combat.

“Some forces are going to be more resistant to this, but I can say the Utah National Guard here, our leadership and our formation, embraces change,” Fairbourn said.

Skougard is ready to move forward.

“I think people will surprised and eyes will be opened at what we are able to accomplish with an integrated force,” Skougard said.

The military has 30 days to decide how to implement the changes.

As for The Utah National Guard, they said 10 percent of their force is female, which is already much higher than other states.

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