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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:

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.

Maj. Hegar published her own blog piece at the ACLU today. It began:
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.

Originally posted to Military Community Members of Daily Kos on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 01:19 PM PST.

Also republished by Sexism and Patriarchy and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Don't many countries already having women (7+ / 0-)

    serving in combat? Why the frack are we still dragging our feet on this? Though I'm sure the same voices screeching about "teh gayz" in the military are screeching about this as well. Someone has to find that Newt Gingrich "giraffe hunter" quote. Ugh.

    To me progress is not so much a goal as it is a process and I believe it will not follow a straight course. Remember, the drops of water that form the river may not take the shortest path but they will still reach the ocean.

    by ontheleftcoast on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 01:36:49 PM PST

  •  All service members should be qualified for (6+ / 0-)

    combat whether they serve in a combat role or not.  If they can hack the rigors of combat they should serve. Otherwise they shouldn't be allowed in the service.  This applies to males and females.  

    Romney is George W. Bush without brains.

    by thestructureguy on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 01:45:59 PM PST

    •  The Marine Corps (7+ / 0-)

      is the only service that expects every member to be a rifleman.

      There are many, many people serving honorably in the Navy, Air Force, and Army who are neither qualified for nor interested in front-line combat. The Navy in particular does essentially no ground combat training except for Seals, Seabees, and medical corpsmen; most Sailors' combat training consists of about four hours at an indoor shooting range in boot camp learning how not to shoot ourselves with a 9mm pistol and a fake shotgun.

      Most Sailors aren't even physically qualified for combat positions. We're not expected to be. The Navy physical fitness test is half as long as the Army/Marine Corps tests, has extraordinarily lenient requirements, and is graded pass/fail with no distinctions. You really couldn't run that far or fast on a boat if you wanted to, so Sailors just have to be fit enough to reduce the risk of medical problems.

      The services have reasons for organizing things the way they do. The skill set of an aircraft repairman has essentially nothing in common with the skill set of an infantryman. If you restrict your recruiting pool for aircraft repairmen to people who are also willing and able to be infantrymen, you're not going to find very many...and most of them are already joining the Marines.

      Anyone who is qualified and willing to serve in combat should be allowed to do so, regardless of anatomy. The current policy is sexist and stupid. But most servicemembers will never serve in ground combat, or even be trained to do so, and a large subset won't even be physically capable of doing so.

      "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

      by kyril on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 02:11:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a follow-up, I read that blog post by (9+ / 0-)

    Maj. Hegar.

    You see, in that scenario (looking past the point I'd never have survived any of those training regimens), I'd have been crying and wanting to go home after getting injured like that.

    I don't do well with pain.

    Also, I'd be scared to get shot.

    Yet, as a young male, I"m already more qualified to serve than her in a combat role.

    It's totally messed up.

    I don't want to fight. I'm not a soldier. I have plenty of other talents, uses to society, but that's not my bag.

    It takes a certain type of person to be a warrior. It's not a trait regulated to gender, it's part of a person and who they are.

    And if someone has the skills, the ability, the drive - it is the dictionary definition of sexism to deny them based on an unrelated factor (their sex).

    I'd rather have her protecting me and my loved ones from threats to our country, than five million of me.

    As would anyone else, trust me.

  •  I wish it would have let me post a comment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, Prinny Squad

    it decided my thanks and note commending the Major must be spam.

    LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

    by BlackSheep1 on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 03:40:14 PM PST

  •  Maybe they want women to be untrained (0+ / 0-)

    So they are easier prey.

    After all, if some women learn how to take down men, really take them down, they might teach other women and then where will the men that want to dominate them be? SOL with a woman protecting herself efficiently and in a deadly fashion.

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 01:11:04 AM PST

    •  The primary reason given that I am aware of... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean

      ...Is that certain roles with the Armed Forces - potentially including those at the front line - require a degree of physical strength that women do not, on average, possess. Two examples that spring to mind from memory are the carrying of 80 to 100lb packs for prolonged periods of time, and in the Navy, a physical fitness test in which participants are required to haul emergency equipment a specified distance (in at least one of the tests, one hundred percent of female participants failed to meet the goal).

      Secondary to this, there may be two further barriers. The first comes from anecdotal reports claiming that males in combat expend excessive effort on protecting their female peers, even to the detriment of themselves on their objective. The second comes from a report stating that the traditional "Break them down and build them back up again" approach to combat training is much less effective with women.

      Having said this, none of these issues are insurmountable - combat roles could be organized along lines of carrying capacity; male and female troops could be both trained to equally value one another, and with methods that do not rely on particular gender-based mindset. While straightforward, such change is both extensive and expensive; and the biggest problem, I fear, is that it will not come quickly in a military notorious for its unhurried approach to adaptation.

  •  Is there a pay differential (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean

    because of the "combat" job title? Are there differences in re-enlistment bonuses for that?

    Thanks for the diary.

  •  perhaps they'll listen to litigating survivors (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean

    rather than postumous heroes or even the actual histories:

    Major Marie T. Rossi-Cayton (Army Aviation Hall of Fame 1992 Induction) was an outstanding aviator and soldier who lost her life flying and soldiering in combat in Southwest Asia during Operation DESERT STORM. Major Rossi-Cayton, 32, the first female Aviation Commander to fly into combat, led B Company, 2nd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, 18th Aviation Brigade and was the pilot of a CH-47D Chinook flying supplies to troops in the combat zone.
    One day before the ground phase of Operation DESERT STORM began, television viewers across the United States saw a Cable News Network (CNN) interview of Major Rossi-Cayton in which she spoke of her role as a woman flying in the combat zone. Major Rossi-Cayton commented that she would be among the first to cross into Iraq when the ground war started.
    In a "no big deal" context, she said, "Personally, as an aviator and a soldier, this is the moment that anybody trains for, so I feel ready for the challenge." With the selflessness of these words and thoughts, she captured and epitomized the excellence of today's Army leaders and aviators.
    Major Rossi-Cayton was the first female U.S.Army Aviator to be killed while flying combat support missions in an active theater of war. She set the example for the legions of female aviators and soldiers to follow - indeed for all who are to follow in the contingencies and wars of the future, male and female. She was an outstanding soldier who gave her life flying and soldiering in Southwest Asia.
    That’s the problem with the military’s combat exclusion policy. It makes it that much harder for people to see someone’s abilities, and instead reinforces stereotypes about gender. The policy creates the pervasive way of thinking in military and civilian populations that women can’t serve in combat roles, even in the face of the reality that servicewomen in all branches of the military are already fighting for their country alongside their male counterparts. They shoot, they return fire, they drag wounded comrades to safety and they engage with the enemy, and they have been doing this for years. They risk their lives for their country, and the combat exclusion policy  does them a great disservice.

    yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

    by annieli on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 06:20:21 AM PST

  •  This really could start a diary all it's own. (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for sharing her story.

  •  Big news here, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean

    women in the service just aren't jumping out of the woodwork to serve in combat roles. Only 2 female officers volunteered to train with the Infantry Training Battalion and they both washed out of the course within a week.

    Few female Marines step forward for Infantry

    I completely believe that women should not be arbitrarily barred from volunteering in combat roles BUT the successful qualifying metrics for those roles CANNOT be changed simply because women can't pass the physical upper body strength requirements as the men.

    The reason being that these qualifying metrics aren't being set to keep women out of combat roles. They are set because they are the REAL LIFE constraints placed on soldiers in combat. You MUST carry a 70+ pound pack on patrol and another 30 or so pounds of gear. Sometimes you have to run with it on. You have to fight with it on. You have to kick ass with it on. If you can't, you're just a handicap, female or not.

    For the women that will step up in the future to meet these requirements, awesome! Get some. For the rest, please try and understand that combat is grueling. Combat is harsh. Combat places restrictions on those that should even attempt to enter it simply because it's combat. War is not sexist. Don't make it into something that is.

    •  I'm surprised you're the first to bring this up! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      defenderTX

      The problem isn't the metrics - no one is asking for them to be changed. And although these two women were permitted to try out, they are the first. They tried; they failed. Men fail too. But until we make ability the first item on the list rather than the sex of the applicant, we'll never get there.

      The truth is women are serving in combat roles - they just aren't getting credit for it. Now, if the Army or Marines is doing that to avoid the question of metrics at training, that's a problem too. But it's a problem that needs to be addressed rather than ignored.

      •  Not just women drop out. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        angelajean

        As you pointed out the course has a high wash out rate for men, too. I totally agree we should address it but want to make sure that in the process we don't field combat units with weak links, male or female. Honestly, there are more than a few men that would also benefit from lowered qualifying metrics.

      •  Yeah, they just need to set the metrics. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        angelajean

        And if women who have a harder time getting the upper body strength needed to pass it go ahead and pass it (and they will), then that makes them even more committed than the males who need to work significantly less harder to get the required upper body strength.

        Sexist pig males will often use the upper body strength excuse. But it is often just a ruse to avoid (accurate) accusations of sexism. The just want to discourage women from even trying.

        Culture and society will evolve. You'll only have two women trying out at first, but as this opens up and more women try and more women get in and eventually infantry roles are full of women, hundreds of years they'll look back at this and discuss the Stupid Ages of humanity and how fucking ridiculous we were.

        It always happens. And I see it already (as does any person who thinks outside the confines of culture, or hell anyone who watches Star Trek), I don't need hundreds of years of review.

        We are still backwards and primitive people compared to our eventual potential. Assuming we don't all kill each other.

        It often disgusts me, but unless someone can freeze me in a cryo-thing like I'm Fry from Futurama and send me thousands of year in the future, I'll just have to live with it!

  •  What about infantry though angelajean? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean

    This is a hot topic in this house.  And when it comes to distance endurance I can still beat my husband because I have higher body fat.  His sister went to the Air Force Academy too, accepted in because of her distance running capabilities.  But did you read the recent write up by the female Marine extreme athlete who had to hang with the infantry and her body couldn't maintain muscle mass, couldn't repair quickly enough under the daily strain of combat infantry?  

    •  Here is a link about her and her writing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean

      Capt Katie Petronio

      She is a Bowdoin athlete

    •  Then her's is a case where her body would fail (0+ / 0-)

      the tests.

      Currently the system is set up so that women aren't even considered. Let's get that changed. Maybe we will never have has many women in the combat infantry as we have men, but if the rules don't change, we'll never know how many could qualify.

      I wonder how foreign military who accept women in combat roles handle this?

      •  I thought the Marines allowed female officers (0+ / 0-)

        Into their last infantry train up, and only two women wanted to go, and they both ended up failing?  It doesn't make me happy.  Because I could outlast my husband at certain things I thought some women could be infantry soldiers, and because of the drug that Petronio ended up on because she developed restless leg syndrome (something I'm familiar with) due to the body breakdown,it would seem that under long term physical strain and stress, dudes hormonally have something on us when it comes to maintaining muscle.

        I think the issue is more complex than I want it to be.  I don't understand why any woman is denied combat flying though or a gunner position.  I think they need to go over this MOS by MOS.

        •  Defendertx and I discuss this a little up above. (0+ / 0-)

          Just a reminder - men have a high wash out rate in the same course. 2 women are not enough to go by. And there is a learning curve.

          A long time ago, I was accepted to the AF Academy. It was the first year they required pull-ups for women. I couldn't do one. I was tested a second time and given 6 weeks to improve. I improved but still couldn't do a pull-up. No training, no suggested training, nothing. Today if that happens, women are offered the chance to go to the prep school to better prepare them physically. But today there are also tools that would have helped me, like assisted pull up machines and a better understanding of how our body works mechanically. I could go on line and figure out which muscle systems to work out instead of just relying on my dad to hold me upside down while I did push ups in a handstand position.

          I'm not saying women need a prep school for combat but we will need to experiment to see what has to change to better prepare women for these classes. Some will pass... it's only a matter of time. And then more will pass and the numbers will increase. We just have to get us there.

  •  Here are the faces of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Militarytracy, angelajean

    "Team Lioness," women who accompany combat troops so they can search Islamic women who cannot be touched by men outside of their family.

    And here's a link to Lioness. Women in Wartime: Women in Combat, from Independent Lens on PBS.

    Women are in combat and lying about it won't change the facts.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 11:51:03 AM PST

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