Local Women Respond to Combat Ban Lifted

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AKRON-- Local women who have served in the U.S. military approve of a decision to lift a nearly 20-year-old ban that kept them from fighting on the front lines.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday announced the end of a ban that was enacted in 1994 saying women and men are already fighting and dying together.

"Our purpose is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the best qualified and the most capable servicemembers, regardless of gender and regardless of creed and beliefs," said Panetta, adding "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job - and let me be clear, I'm not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job - if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation."

Christina Rastall of Willowick served 11 years in the U.S. Army Reserves including one tour of duty in Iraq.

She says in the thick of things it didn't matter what gender the person was who was next to you.

"We got shot at and blown up by IEDs all the time on the convoys and we just dealt with it like the men did," said Rastall.

"We train right next to the men. We are in basic training with the men side by side and we do exactly what they do. We have to pass all the same tests that the men do and it hasn't been different. They just don't let us in the combat role," she continued.

Victoria Barrientos of Akron also served in the U.S. Army.

Barrientos was a paratrooper serving six years in the military, including tours of duty in Afghanistan, Qatar and Yemen.

Before joining the army, Barrientos says she wanted to be a U.S. Navy Seal but she was told she couldn't because she is a girl.

"I was very disappointed because I was in better shape than a lot of boys my age, so I felt that I should be allowed to do it," said Barrientos.

Barrientos says she ultimately went through the Army's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) School where their special forces are trained.

"I got to go to SERE school for my last deployment, which is similar but not exactly the same. They still smack you around, and you're not supposed to talk about what they do there, but I got to go through that and it was the best and worst times of my life, and I would do it again. If they told me I could do it again, I would do it again," said Barrientos.

Both women say the expectations of women in the military are no different than of men.

"Infantry guys have to go through a lot of stuff to become infantry, but if a woman can do it as long as she can shoot or move and make sure they can carry a guy bigger than her thats all they ask," said Barrientos.

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