Women’s combat reality outpaces military policy

The News TribuneDecember 2, 2012 

A lawsuit filed last week in federal district court by four military women highlights the disconnect between the roles the Pentagon allows them to fill and the ones they actually fill when deployed in combat zones.

The four women all performed combat roles in Iraq or Afghanistan. Two received Purple Hearts for wounds sustained in combat. But because they’re technically prohibited from serving in combat, they likely will not have the same opportunities for advancement in their military careers as the men they served with.

Women are so integrated into a variety of roles in the military and the nature of war has changed so much in recent years that they often find themselves in the kind of “direct” combat situations they’re not supposed to be in according to Pentagon rules.

Women constitute more than 14 percent of active U.S. military personnel. Half of the servicewomen deployed after Sept. 11, 2011, reported being involved in combat operations

The four women suing to end its ban on women in combat essentially want the Pentagon to recognize that women already are in combat – and give them the training they need as well as promotions and veterans benefits associated with combat service.

Military women too often find themselves hitting the “brass ceiling” because of the Pentagon’s ban. Eighty percent of general officers rose from combat positions denied to women.

They face many of the same arguments that were made against women becoming police officers and firefighters: They can’t handle the physical demands, their presence would disrupt unit cohesion, they would be distractions for men.

Today, women routinely serve in fire and police departments. In this state, women have served as Tacoma Fire Department chief, King County sheriff and head of the Washington State Patrol.

Not all women are physically able to serve as firefighters or police officers (nor are all men, for that matter). The same would be true in the military. Not all women would be able to carry the weight soldiers must pack. It would probably be a rare woman who would want to serve in such elite units as the Navy SEALs, Delta Force or the Rangers. But should those who can handle the physical demands be denied the opportunity?

Although the Pentagon opened 14,000 combat-related positions to women in February, 238,000 still are closed to them, mostly in the Army and Marine Corps. Yet women serve so close to those “direct” combat roles in support roles that they often find themselves in harm’s way; 150 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Woman are being wounded and killed in combat. A policy that doesn’t recognize that reality is accomplishing only one thing: denying military women the training and career opportunities many of them want.

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