The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit today, Hegar v Panetta, that demands the Department of Defense stop barring women from serving in combat roles solely based on the fact that they are women.
Their argument is simple - the combat exclusion policy is a sexist one. The suit says the policy is unconstitutional because the DoD makes decisions on who can serve in combat roles based first and foremost on the sex of the individual, not on their abilities.
They argue that today's modern battlefield, as exemplified in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has no clear front lines and women have been serving in combat in all but name yet are denied the benefits of official combat service. These women are barred from schools needed for higher levels of combat command. They are denied jobs that could lead to further promotion. They are denied training that could save their lives or the lives of their fellow soldiers simply because they lack the proper job title.
While this federal suit is new news, the fact that women cannot officially serve in combat is not. We've been reading about women in combat long before the beginning of the Afghanistan war. Most recently, in October 2012, you might have read about the lawsuit filed by Army Col. Ellen Haring and Command Sgt. Maj. Jane Baldwin. In an article from the LA Times, we learn that these women were denied jobs because of their lack of combat experience yet they were originally considered for these jobs because of their experience in combat positions in all but name.
In February, 2012, the Daily Mail published a piece titled "Pentagon wants more women on front lines but STILL denies them full-combat roles." It seems like the Pentagon wants it both ways - they need women in valuable positions in zones that are considered combat areas but they don't want them serving in the infantry or the Special Forces, both traditional bastions of male testosterone. And with the recent outpouring of sexual harassment and sexual abuse scandals, we might wonder if the real concern is that the Pentagon doesn't trust the very men we have placed in these units to be responsible for their own behavior. Perhaps it is easier to deny women a role in combat than to demand men live up to an acceptable standard of behavior.
The brave plaintiffs for this current case have been profiled by the ACLU. For complete profiles please visit the link. Here is just a taste:
Major Mary Hegar, Air National Guard:
Maj Mary Hegar is a helicopter pilot currently serving as an Air Guardsman for the California Air National Guard, and has served three tours over two deployments in Afghanistan. Maj Hegar served in the Air Force for five years as an Aircraft Maintenance officer, and later served in the Air National Guard for six years, where she trained as a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) pilot. In her capacity as a CSAR pilot she has flown hundreds of Medevac missions, picking up wounded soldiers and civilians from the battlefield.
Captain Zoe Bedell, US Marine Corps Reserves:
Capt. Zoe Bedell was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps in 2007. While serving on active duty, she deployed twice to Afghanistan where she served as the Officer-in-Charge of Female Engagement Teams (FETs). She is currently a captain in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. After being commissioned, Capt. Bedell graduated with honors from The Basic School, which is the first phase of Marine Corps officer training. This means that she ranked in the top 10 percent of her class of approximately 300 Marines for the 26 week course, which includes training on weapons, tactics, leadership, and other skills.
First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, United States Marine Corps:
First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell is an active duty officer in the United States Marine Corps, and has deployed to Afghanistan, where she served as a section leader of Female Engagement Teams (FETs).
During her tour, Lt. Farrell managed between 12 and 20 FET members who would go out on patrols with the infantry, doing outreach and intelligence and assessing security issues. Like the infantrymen they served with, the women in Lt. Farrell’s charge were regularly in danger of drawing enemy fire, being ambushed or hit by IEDs. Three teams of women Marines under Lt. Farrell’s charge were awarded Combat Action Ribbons for receiving and returning fire or being hit by an IED.
Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt, United States Army Reserves:Maj. Hegar published her own blog piece at the ACLU today. It began:
Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt is a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army Reserves in the Civil Affairs Military Occupational Specialty. Staff Sgt. Hunt enlisted in the United States Army Reserves in 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, and subsequently deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2004, Staff Sgt. Hunt deployed to Afghanistan in a unit engaged in provincial reconstruction. In addition to her regular duties as a Civil Affairs Specialist, which involved coordinating civil-military operations, Staff Sgt Hunt also accompanied combat arms soldiers on “door-kicking missions,” searching villages for insurgents. She was often the only woman and the only person from her unit going on missions with 20 to 30 infantrymen, whose units are officially closed to women.
When I was little, people would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d always answer, “I want to be an Air Force pilot.” I never understood why they would look so surprised. To this day, that same part of me doesn’t understand why someone’s gender would have any bearing at all on what job they ended up in. I always thought that your skills, strengths, and interests would be better qualifiers. I remember watching the news when I was in high school and hearing that they were opening combat aircraft up to women for the first time. My first thought was, “Cool! What do I need to do to get one!” followed closely by my second thought, “What changed? Why weren’t we allowed to fly in combat before?”Please consider reading her entire piece and then leave a comment and let her know how much we support this fight. Women have gone above and beyond to show that they are capable soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. It's about time they were treated that way.