FORT CARSON, Colo. -- For the Mountaineer, I'm expected to be an objective expert on many facets of Army life. I report on Soldier trainings, Army policy and activities taking place around post. However, every so often an opportunity arises for reporters to voice their opinion on a subject, often one that is controversial.

As a journalist, I feel that to ignore the opportunity to comment on these occasions would be detrimental to my position on this staff. As the wife of a Soldier, I feel that I am in a unique position to lend my opinion and let the readers of this publication judge as they will.

In a historic announcement, Monday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta extended almost two dozen benefits to same-sex couples.

I call this announcement "historic" because I am shocked and elated that this proclamation and step toward equal rights is taking place at a time when I can appreciate its magnitude.

For the second time since I began writing for the Mountaineer, gays and lesbians serving in the military have been recognized as a population. With the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," they are able to assert their lifestyle without fear of repercussions. They are no longer faceless, emotionless beings serving in the ranks.

Monday's announcement acknowledged the men and women supporting them and recognized them as valued members of the military community.

In a statement, Panetta said, "Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all servicemembers receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation."

For me, this is an understatement.

These partners of Soldiers have endured the field trainings, the moves and the deployments. They've experienced the loneliness and the heartache of being separated from their Soldiers as duties call.

They've dealt with the agony and fear when the lines of communication go silent while their Soldier serves in a combat zone.

They've laughed, loved, fought and cried with their Soldiers.

They've stood by their Soldiers, just as hundreds of other spouses have supported theirs, yet they've done so without the support of many Army benefits heterosexual couples enjoy, such as commissary and Exchange privileges, access to child care and youth programs, legal assistance and Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs.

Panetta's declaration changes that.

Once benefits laid out in Panetta's statement are implemented throughout the next eight months, partners will also receive survivor benefits and have access to counseling services.

Even with these new benefits, however, same-sex couples will not receive other benefits given to heterosexual couples. The Defense of Marriage Act -- a law signed in 1996 by then-President William Clinton -- prohibits the Department of Defense from extending benefits such as medical and dental, as well as with-dependent rate Basic Allowance for Housing.

This is a new era for civil rights. There are still steps to take toward equality, but I am proud and happy to be part of a military that is actively seeking that goal.