I suspect that the ease with which the U.S. military has accepted openly gay personnel may have encouraged the Pentagon to drop the much-tattered combat restriction on women. The same arguments that were made against integration of blacks in the 1940s and of gays over the last 10 years were made against allowing women to openly serve in combat roles. But, despite those Chicken Littles and Henny Pennies, the sky didn't fall. And the failure of those dire predictions of destroyed unit cohesion to pan out undercut the argument against women in combat. Also, there was a powerful argument that we already have seen women fight in Iraq -- and be decorated for valor in combat.
Ironically, integrating women into infantry units may be far harder than it was to integrate blacks and male gays. The real battle is yet to come: It will be over whether there will be different standards for women than for men, and if so, how different. Or, as retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger puts it, "'If you want to ride this ride, you must be this tall' must be the mantra, not 'everyone gets to play.'"
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.