Yesterday President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta made history when they announced that at long last, more military positions, including ground combat units, will be opened to women.
This is a major recognition, not only of all the women who are currently serving overseas, but of all the women who have ever worn our country's uniform. For me, that's personal.
The terrorist attacks on September 11th were a defining event for my generation—and a defining event in my own life. While serving in the Hawaii legislature, I enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard in 2003, training in medical logistics and operations. When I learned in 2004 that the 29th Brigade Combat Team, an incredible group with whom I had trained, sacrificed, and bonded, were being deployed to Iraq, it didn't take long to realize that I couldn't stay home and watch my brothers and sisters in uniform march off to combat without me. I stepped away from public office and volunteered to deploy to Iraq with my comrades. I've now deployed to the Middle East twice, graduated with distinguished honors from Officer Candidate School, and in 2011, as a captain in Hawaii's National Guard, served as company commander responsible for more than 75 soldiers.
It has been an honor to serve my country as a soldier. Now it is my honor to serve with Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a fellow Iraq War veteran who was disabled in combat, as the first female combat veterans ever elected to Congress. I'm grateful to be in a position to share my story and the stories of my female comrades.
I think about women like Leigh Ann Hester, a military police sergeant who served in Iraq and became the first woman since World War II to earn a Silver Star. Standing shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts, in 2005 Sergeant Hester led her squad of MPs against a very hot insurgent attack in Iraq. They flanked the enemy, assaulted and took two trenches, and in the end, saved American lives.
Stories like Sergeant Hester's, Rep. Duckworth's, and mine are not exceptional. For more than two centuries, women have served our country patriotically and courageously. Nearly 2 million women have enlisted in the United States military, and more than 150 women made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The women I've served with are real patriots who've shown great heroism under duress and chosen to put their lives on the line for our country. Like our male counterparts, we just want to serve in the best way we can. For some of us, that means combat. Not every female soldier will make that choice, but the point is, we can.
Our military is the very best in the world. We are trained professionals who adapt and overcome, no matter the circumstances. Whether we're in training, or in combat, we share an unbreakable bond as comrades-in-arms, brothers and sisters, working as one team with one mission: serving our great country. This change in policy will only make us stronger.
As President Obama noted yesterday, "valor knows no gender." And that is something we can all salute.