Soldiers sue Dept. of Defense to lift ban on women in combat

Servicewomen suing over ban on women in combat. From left: Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, Marine Cpt. Zoe Bedell, Marine 1st Lt. Colleen Farrell and Air National Guard Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar.

The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of four servicewomen, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Department of Defense, calling the 1994 ban on women serving in combat unconstitutional. Though the Defense Department has loosened many of its gender-based restrictions, women are still banned from infantry and other small-combat units. The lawsuit alleges that the ban has effectively relegated women’s combat duties to an “unofficial” status, preventing them from earning the same recognition and promotions as their male counterparts.

All four plaintiffs have seen combat in Iran and Afghanistan, proving the claim that women are already handling the “living conditions and physical burdens” some critics say women can’t handle, according to a Stars and Stripes report.

A CBS News article reported that, under Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 14,500 combat roles have been opened to women. And yet, the article said, women are still banned from serving in “238,000 positions across the Armed Forces.”

Elizabeth Gill, an attorney with the ACLU in California, told U.S. News and World Report that women’s military careers are suffering under the ban:

What the policy is doing is preventing [women] from getting the proper training, from getting recognition, from using this combat experience that they’re getting to advance within the military. We’re not saying that any particular woman has a constitutional right to a specific position, it is really about the categorical exclusion and how that policy is outdated and doesn’t match the reality of modern warfare.

Our clients in this case have served in capacities where they’re shot at by enemy fire, they’re engaged, they’re attached to combat units. They’re fighting in exactly the same circumstances as men but they’re not recognized for that work.

According to CBS News, U.S. Marine Gen. James Amos has “ordered a survey of 53,000 troops to get their views, including whether they believe women in those units would distract male Marines from doing their jobs. The results have not been released yet.”

Read more from Stars and Stripes, US News and World Report, and CBS News:

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