The lawsuit calls the military the “last bastion of discrimination” by the federal government and challenged the government’s rational for the restrictions, arguing modern warfare already puts women in the line of fire. “Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship – serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation,” the suit reads.
The women challenging the Department of Defense policy flew search-and-rescue helicopter missions and patrolled with male Marines in what were categorized as non-combat counter-terrorism roles. Two of the four women were even wounded while serving in those roles but found their work unrecognized when it came to promotions. “In America today it’s hard to conceive that there are still things you are not allowed to do, just because you are a woman,” Captain Zoe Bedell, a Marine Corps reserves officer who served two tours in Afghanistan, told a news conference.
Bedell described how her fellow female marines, charged with engaging the local community in support of male infantry units, found themselves fighting, too. “They patrolled every day with the infantry, and sometimes twice a day. They lived every day on the same combat outposts in remote corners of Afghanistan. They wore the same gear and they carried the same rifles, and when the unit was attacked, my marines fought back,” she said at the conference.
The Department of Defense has slowly been dropping gender-based restrictions, and we should emphasize slowly. In 1994 women were finally allowed to serve in combat units as medics, intelligence officers and related jobs at the brigade level. In February of this year women were allowed to perform those same jobs in a battalion and the Pentagon dropped restrictions on women serving in units that were required to be based with combat units.
But women still can’t serve as infantry or in smaller units engaged in combat, which accounts for more than 238,000 positions in the military according to the ACLU. According to Reuters, when asked about the lawsuit at a briefing, a Pentagon spokesman said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta remained “very committed to examining the expansion of roles for women in the U.S. military and he’s done so.”
The ACLU and law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson filed the request for an injunction on the policy in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. The lawsuit follows a similar suit filed in May by two Army reservists in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Much like the lawsuits challenging Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in some ways these are necessary formalities to finish off the process of equalizing the ranks of our military once and for all. Common sense tells us these distinctions are nonsense and the evidence bears that out. It’s time our institutions caught up, especially the single largest federal employer.
Photo from U.S. Army via flickr.