January 12, 2013

Military opportunity: Four women sue for right to fight in direct combat

They say the exclusion of women is outdated, and that the front lines of war are vastly changed.

By MATTHEW HAY BROWN The Baltimore Sun

(Continued from page 1)

 Sara Rodriguez
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Capt. Sara Rodriguez, 26, of the 101st Airborne Division, is seen during the Expert Field Medical Badge training at Fort Campbell, Ky. A lawsuit under way, however, seeks to allow women to train, and perform, in direct combat.

The Associated Press

WOMEN IN SERVICE
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Sgt. Jennifer Hunt

According to the plaintiffs, 80 percent of Army generals come from positions closed to women.

"Of course it's welcome that they're tweaking the policy around the edges, but the core exclusion is still in place," Migdal said. "Whole career fields, whole combat arms and whole schools remain closed."

Hunt's co-plaintiffs include California Air National Guard Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, a helicopter pilot who earned a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor in Afghanistan; Marine Capt. Alexandra Zoe Bedell, who has deployed twice to Afghanistan; and Marine 1st Lt. Colleen Farrell, who also has deployed to Afghanistan.

Joining them as a plaintiff is the Service Women's Action Network, a New York-based advocacy group.

"The military is the last place with legalized sex discrimination in the United States," said former Marine Capt. Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the network. "It fosters a broader atmosphere of sexism toward women. You can't expect women to be treated well with a discriminatory policy."

Hunt joined the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She earned a Purple Heart in September 2007, when the Humvee in which her civil affairs team was traveling through Baghdad rolled over a roadside bomb. Shrapnel hit her face and upper body, and she suffered an electrical burn on her back.

Hunt and her fellow plaintiffs say the combat exclusion policy is not mandated by any statute and violates their "rights to equal protection of the law under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment."

"I think it's a lot simpler than folks are making it out to be," said Bhagwati, who served in the Marines from 1999 through 2004. "Now, whether are not there are tens of thousands of women who can pass those tests and achieve all those tasks is another question altogether. But what this suit is really all about is the opportunity to compete.

"Just open the doors and let women compete. And if they fail, then they fail. But if they succeed, then you need to allow them to do what they were trained to do."

 

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