AUGUSTA — Women should be allowed to serve in combat, as long as they can do it at the same level as their male peers, several local veterans said Thursday.

Their comments, made at the Veterans Lounge at the University of Maine at Augusta, came on the day when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the removal of a ban on women serving in combat.

“If a woman wants to go into combat, she should be able to,” said Kerrin Krainis, 24, of Edgecomb, who served four years on active duty in the Air Force and is now an inactive reservist taking classes at UMA. “We’re not just homemakers anymore. There are a lot of strong women out there. A woman shouldn’t go over there if she can’t meet the same standards; but if she has the strength and capability, she should be able to do it.”

However, Krainis said military women shouldn’t be forced into combat against their wishes; it should be their choice, she said.

Krainis said she personally wouldn’t want to, “but if I had to, I would have.”

Rich Bannister, of Lisbon, said when he was in the Navy he served on a dock landing ship which had a nearly 50-50 ratio of men to women. A machinist, Bannister said he served alongside a woman in the engine room, and he thinks women should be allowed to go into combat too.

“We all take the same oath,” said Bannister, who left the Navy in 2006. “We all know the same risks. I don’t see why they should be any different. They’re just as dedicated as men.”

Charles Thompson, 46, of Freeport, who served in the Army, said women should be allowed to serve in combat but only if they can meet the same standards men are required to meet.

“I knew some women in the Army who could’ve done it,” he said. “If they’re able, sure, but don’t lower the criteria. You can’t change the job description. It can get tough.”

Panetta, speaking Thursday at a Pentagon news conference with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said not all women will be able to meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier and those qualifications will not be lowered.

Ralph Lyden, of Augusta, who left the Air Force in 1985, said women basically already do serve in combat situations. He said when he was in the service, a woman was his immediate supervisor, and he had no problem working with her.

Lyden said the only thing he heard any of the women he served with in the military complain about was using the toilet on a C-130 airplane full of troops. He said the toilet was mounted on top of a ramp, with only a curtain, which didn’t provide enough privacy.

Even back in the 1980s, when troops conducted warlike training exercises, women in the units participated fully. There were no separate exercises for female troops, he said, and he thinks women should be allowed in combat officially.

“They already do. I don’t see a problem with it,” he said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com