Good to go: Panetta opens quarter-million military combat jobs to women -- if standards met
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Women in the military must have the same opportunities as men to take on grueling and dangerous combat jobs, whether loading 50-pound artillery shells or joining commando raids to take out terrorists, defense leaders declared Thursday as they ordered a quarter-million positions open to service members regardless of gender.
As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, signed an order wiping away generations of limits on women fighting for their country, the military services said they would begin a sweeping review of the physical requirements. At the same time they acknowledged that women have been fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade.
Women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel. More than 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or neighboring nations in support of the wars. Of the more than 6,600 U.S. service members who have been killed, 152 have been women.
The leaders said no physical standards will be lowered just to send more women closer to the battlefront.
"I fundamentally believe that our military is more effective when success is based solely on ability and qualifications and on performance," Panetta said at a Pentagon news conference.
Soldiers: New policy brings women out of the background, but emotions, ability still factors
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- During her time in Iraq, Alma Felix would see her fellow female soldiers leave the Army installations where she worked at a desk job and head into combat with their male counterparts. But many returned home feeling that few knew of their contributions.
"I guess we do disappear into the background," the 27-year-old former Army specialist said. "You always hear we're losing our sons out there. And although women have fallen out there, you really don't see very much of it."
Now, with the Pentagon ending its ban on women in combat, Felix and other female troops hope the military's plan to open hundreds of thousands of combat jobs to them will lead society to recognize that they, too, can be courageous warriors.
"We are the support. Those are the positions we fill and that's a big deal -- we often run the show -- but people don't see that," she said. "Maybe it will put more females forward and give people a sense there are women out there fighting for our country.
"It's not just you're typical poster boy, GI Joes doing it," she said.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. HOW WOMEN CAN QUALIFY FOR COMBAT
Under the military's new rules, they'll have to meet the same physical requirements as men.
AP PHOTOS: A historical look back at women's military service
Through the years, women's roles in wartime have evolved -- not that women ever have been inclined to just stand by.
During the American Revolution, Nancy Morgan Hart was famously depicted with a musket, defending her home and children from British soldiers in Georgia.
In World War II, members of the Women Army Corps worked in a support capacity, while in Iraq and Afghanistan women have served closer to the front.
Those roles evolved further Thursday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order ending the Pentagon's ban on women serving in combat.
Here's a collection of images showing some of the ways women have served their country in the U.S. military:
Al-Qaida's No. 2 in Yemen died of wounds from a US drone attack, official news agency says
SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Al-Qaida's No. 2 in Yemen died of wounds sustained in a U.S. drone attack last year in southern Yemen, the country's official news agency and a security official said Thursday.
Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi national who fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, was wounded in a missile attack in the southern city of Saada on Oct. 28, according to SABA news agency.
The agency said that he had fallen into a coma since then. It was not clear when he actually died.
A security official said that the missile had been fired by a U.S. -operated, unmanned drone aircraft. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Yemen had previously announced al-Shihri's death in a Sept. 10 drone attack in the province of Hadramawt. A subsequent DNA test however proved that the body recovered was not that of al-Shihri.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: GOP must stop being 'stupid party'
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the Republican Party to "stop being the stupid party" on Thursday as GOP leaders promised fundamental changes to help stave off future losses.
In the keynote address at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, Jindal said the GOP doesn't need to change its values but "might need to change just about everything else we are doing."
"We've got to stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults," he said. "We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I'm here to say we've had enough of that."
Jindal, thought to be a potential 2016 presidential contender, offered little detail in the 25-minute address. He called on conservatives to shift their focus from Capitol Hill number crunching to "the place where conservatism thrives -- in the real world beyond the Washington Beltway."
Hours before the speech, Republican leaders promised to release in March a report, dubbed the "Growth and Opportunity Project," outlining recommendations on party rules and messaging designed to appeal to a rapidly changing American electorate. President Barack Obama's November victory was fueled, in part, by overwhelming support from the nation's Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities.
Obama's choice for secretary of state, Kerry spells out foreign policy for friendly panel
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. John Kerry, President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of state, collected pledges of support Thursday and testified at his confirmation hearing that U.S. foreign policy should be defined by a helping hand as well as military strength.
The Massachusetts Democrat discussed Iran, Syria, climate change and a variety of issues with members of the Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing that recalled an unusual American life -- son of a diplomat, Navy lieutenant who volunteered for Vietnam, anti-war protester, five-term senator, unsuccessful nominee for president, and Obama's unofficial envoy.
The nearly four-hour hearing also provided an odd juxtaposition as Kerry, a member of the panel for 28 years and its chairman for the last four, sat alone in the witness chair. At one point, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the incoming chairman who presided, mistakenly referred to Kerry as "Mr. Secretary."
The current secretary, Hillary Rodham Clinton, introduced Kerry, calling him "the right choice." She is stepping down after four years.
The committee is expected to approve Kerry's nomination. A full Senate vote will take place Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
Smoking penalty: Individual health care coverage could become unaffordable for many people
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama's health care law, according to experts who are just now teasing out the potential impact of a little-noted provision in the massive legislation.
The Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" to its detractors -- allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums starting next Jan. 1.
For a 55-year-old smoker, the penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year. A 60-year-old could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of premiums.
Younger smokers could be charged lower penalties under rules proposed last fall by the Obama administration. But older smokers could face a heavy hit on their household budgets at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses tend to emerge.
Workers covered on the job would be able to avoid tobacco penalties by joining smoking cessation programs, because employer plans operate under different rules. But experts say that option is not guaranteed to smokers trying to purchase coverage individually.
'American Pie' singer McLean fined $400 for driving his Chrysler too fast in Maine school zone
ROCKLAND, Maine (AP) -- "American Pie" singer Don McLean has been fined $400 for driving his Chrysler too fast through a Maine school zone and has paid the levy.
McLean contested the charge in September, saying school zone warning lights weren't flashing. Police said in Rockland District Court on Thursday they were flashing.
The Bangor Daily News reports police say McLean was driving 43 mph when the limit was 15.
A judge found McLean was speeding in the Rockport school zone but lowered what would be a $515 fine if uncontested to $400.
McLean immediately paid up.
On Couric show, voicemails played with 'woman' telling Notre Dame LB 'I love you'
NEW YORK (AP) -- The person Manti Te'o says was pretending to be his online girlfriend told the Notre Dame linebacker "I love you" in voicemails that were played during his interview with Katie Couric.
Taped earlier this week and broadcast Thursday, the hour-long talk show featured three voicemails that Te'o claims were left for him last year. Te'o said they were from the person he believed to be Lennay Kekua, a woman he had fallen for online but never met face-to-face.
After the first message was played, Te'o said: "It sounds like a girl, doesn't it?"
"It does," Couric responded.
The interview was the All-American's first on camera since his tale of inspired play after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September unraveled as a bizarre hoax in an expose by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16.