Opportunities for Army women have grown since the days of gender apartheid when I joined in 1975. Women were not invited to participate in many of the activities that made our Army the most powerful fighting force on the face of the earth. While the first women had been allowed to go to Airborne School, women could not be assigned to combat units. They could not fly most aircraft or participate in any combat arms missions. Uniforms were completely different. The most obvious difference was the mint-green duty uniform. It was cute, but it was not really practical for field duty.I joined the Women’s Army Corps, a kind of separate Army for women. When the branch was disbanded in 1978, the journey to integrate women into the Regular Army was in full swing. It was exciting and it was fun, and as I look back I’m most proud of the doors that opened and continue to open. My niece, Air Force Maj. Jennie Hall, an A-10 pilot, is an example of how far we’ve come, and now women are allowed to apply for and compete for Ranger School.When I joined, I never had any illusion as to what I was getting myself into. I never wanted to be Rambo, and I never thought about fighting for the opportunity to join the combat arms. I knew, though, there were some women who would and could have so served if given the opportunity.I knew our Army would be transformed for the better because of such integration. I also knew transformative change is seldom quick and never easy. As for me, all I really wanted was to find a career that would allow me to do my job in both peace and war.It’s hard for millennials to even fathom an all-Women’s Army Corps, an all-male West Point or ROTC programs that excluded women. Policy change didn’t necessarily mean an immediate change in mindset. Biases and prejudices persisted.One of the things I am most proud of is that I was given the opportunity to serve in a military that led the way in breaking barriers for society as a whole. Not only did I benefit from this during my personal journey, but I also witnessed the military challenge de jure and de facto barriers that were prejudicial and oppressive to groups of Americans that were denied the opportunity to serve equally in the military. Some of these discriminatory practices are hard to even imagine today: segregated black units, separate corps for women and limits on service by gays. True enough, these discriminatory practices mirrored societal practices, but that didn’t make them right. Change was needed and our Army answered the call.The Army led the way in repealing all of these oppressions, including black integration into the military, integration of women into the Regular Army, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as an interim measure toward allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and presently, the review of bans on women serving in combat units. Not only do these groups benefit by this process of inclusion, but also the nation has been blessed by these efforts in the military. Just as importantly, our military has been improved by diversity, the diversity that reflects American society as a whole.None of these changes happened over-night, but in every case it took whites, blacks, women and gays who were willing to kick down doors, demonstrating they were capable and their integration would not lead to the demise of this trained and ready Army.In my new book, A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General, I describe some of the hostile and challenging environments I experienced and how I dealt with them. Being one of the first female officers to attend Airborne School back in 1976, I taped my long blonde hair to my head with masking tape to avoid having to cut it and look like a man. In 1984, as one of the first women to attend 10th Special Forces Jumpmaster School in Bad Tölz, Germany, I was initially assigned a male paratrooper roommate because they thought there was a typo on my application. There couldn’t possibly be a paratrooper named Ann. They must have thought it was Andy.I did get a room of my own, and I ended up being one of the four honor grads in Airborne School in a class of 260 men and women. I also graduated from Jumpmaster School on the first try, even though there was a 60 percent washout rate for first-timers. It would have been easy to let them run me off, but the right thing to do was demonstrate I was a professional, I was capable and I could exceed the standards set for men. I believed I was as good or better than any of my male counterparts in my business. When I believed, others believed as well.In 2013, at Fort Benning, Ga., the commander of 1st Battalion, 507th Airborne Infantry Regiment, commemorated four decades of female paratroopers in the airborne community. Today, women are in every part of the airborne operation: jumpers, jumpmasters, safety officers, black hat instructors and pilots.Completing Airborne School opened many doors for me, including the opportunity to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division. Without the opportunity to go to Airborne School, my career would have been dramatically different and probably would not have earned me a seat at the four-star table.Before 9/11, the policy on women in combat was pretty clear: Women were not allowed to be assigned to units where their primary duties would subject them to direct ground combat action. When the global war on terrorism changed the battlefield, the way we fought had to change as well. It was relatively easy for leaders to work around the language in the policy. Particularly with combat medics, women were frequently attached to combat units that were going into harm’s way. Attached meant they were on loan for an unspecified period of time and were then routinely used in the more dangerous combat actions.Nothing sorts out the appropriate roles for soldiers faster and with greater honesty than sustained combat operations. For a generation, women have demonstrated the appropriateness of their role in such operations. Women have been fighting, dying and distinguishing themselves on the current battlefield for over a decade. More than 150 women have died in service to their country. Nothing is off-limits, and with our determined current enemy, nothing is sacred and no one is safe. The military’s gender policy is finally catching up with reality.Regarding the current debate about expanding opportunities for women in the combat arms arena, first let me say that lowering standards just to accommodate women in these new roles would be a serious mistake. Our mission is to fight and win our nation’s wars. I think the term gender-neutral standard is an inaccurate description of defining the right standard and gives the perception that standards will be slightly lower for men and slightly higher for women. What we should be defining is “the standard” for “the mission.”I do believe no job should be closed based on gender alone to any person who can meet or exceed the standards of training for that job. Can a woman meet the same standards required of her male counterparts? If she can, then there is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to do the job.When Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced in 2013 that the restrictions for women in the U.S. forces were going to be lifted, it was handled in a very thoughtful way. Instead of saying, “Just do it,” the services were given time and parameters for implementing the new policy. If, after careful review, the service chiefs or combatant commanders did not think women could perform a specific job, then they would have to explain why not. To date, all of the services are working their way through the new policy. Even the most demanding training pipelines—Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and other specialties—are looking for female candidates.I can’t say how many female Rangers, SEALs or Air Force combat controllers we will have in five or 10 years. Perhaps, like now, there will not be a single one. I only know that if there are some women who want to and are qualified to compete for these tough assignments, then they should have the opportunity.I trust Army leadership will do a prudent review of the standards to ensure that we use the right criteria for qualification for combat arms specialties. I strongly believe we should not reduce qualifications deemed important for the combat efforts of our military, but we should also not exclude those who are able to and desire to serve in these demanding jobs in support of our nation. We must base exclusions on a rational basis and not traditional stereotypes or cultural exclusions.If we do adopt rational bases for exclusion and allow all who are willing to compete, the result will be a stronger Army, strengthened by the principle of inclusion instead of irrational exclusion.