Many Bay Area veterans celebrated Wednesday's news that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to lift the military's ban on combat for women as another step forward for women's rights.

Emily Yates, a 30-year-old Army veteran from Oakland, was among them. She served two tours of duty in Iraq in a public affairs job, and often found herself in harm's way while accompanying patrolmen on missions outside the base.

"I am really happy that I never had to kill anybody or watch anybody be killed," Yates said. "But if someone wants to choose to put themselves in a position where that will be a regular part of their job, I think women's ability to choose their line of work should be valued and supported."

At the same time, she said, a backlash wouldn't surprise her.

"I'm sure that the first infantry woman who fails in some way is going to be, I predict, picked out and used as an example of why women can't do it," Yates said. "They're going to be held to an extreme double standard, but at least they'll be getting paid the same for doing the same work and there's one less you-can't-do-this in the world."

And women, she said, can be fully capable.

"I've met women in the military who could kick a lot of ass, who are completely physically built up and met men in the military who have completely let themselves go," Yates said. "Everybody knows that with adrenaline, with extreme pressure, people can achieve feats of strength over anything we would think possible."


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Johnny Rodriquez, 20, of San Jose, who just completed Marine Corps boot camp, also support Panetta's decision.

"They have just as much right to fight as we do," he said.

His female cousin is in the National Guard, he said, and she is just as strong-willed as she is strong and would be more than able to fight if that's what she wanted.

"If you love this country,'' he said, "you should be able to fight for it."

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.