The Pentagon's decision to end the ban on women in ground combat recognizes that women already serve in war zones in many capacities, sometimes finding themselves in the thick of battle.
More than 150 women have died in battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are female combat pilots.
So it's appropriate for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to end the prohibition.
But it is essential our military leaders decide how best to execute the change.
They must not be forced to compromise physical standards or ignore the extra stress the policy might cause.
Combat troops sometimes endure incredibly vile conditions that don't permit privacy.
It would be as irresponsible to dismiss the challenges this change could cause as it would be to dismiss a woman's ability to serve effectively in combat.
Maren Leed, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Wall Street Journal he doubted the rule would enable women to become "full-up Navy SEALs," but "it probably means there will be subspecialties within the SEALS for which they are eligible."
We imagine, eventually, some women will qualify for even the most strenuous assignments, and a woman's presence in a fighting unit will become routine.
What's not needed is for Congress to interfere, demanding parity based strictly on numbers.
For this dramatic policy change to be a success, the military, not Washington, must be in command.