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Opinion: Banning women from combat is unconstitutional
The author argues that women already fight in combat and should be recognized for their service.
December 4th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

Opinion: Banning women from combat is unconstitutional

By Adam Cohen, Special to Time.com

(TIME) - When Major Mary Jennings Hegar was serving as a captain in Afghanistan her aircraft was shot down by enemy fire while she and her crew were evacuating injured soldiers. Though injured by a bullet that penetrated the helicopter, she completed the rescue mission while under fire on the ground — and received the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross for “outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty.”

One thing Hegar, who has served three tours in Afghanistan, did not do: get credit for serving in combat. It is illegal for women to be in official combat positions — and to get the benefits that come with them. Hegar and three other service women filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco last week in a long overdue challenge to the Pentagon’s nonsensical and unconstitutional ban.

4 female war veterans sue U.S. military over policy against women in combat

Women have always served in the military (and have lost their lives,) but Congress and the Pentagon have put an array of restrictions on them. In 1988, the military adopted the “risk rule,” which allowed women to be kept out of even non-combat positions if they were likely be put at risk of being fired on or captured. In 1994, it dropped the risk rule, but Defense Secretary Les Aspin adopted the current ban on women in official ground combat positions, after a poll had showed weak public support for allowing women to volunteer for combat.

Many military women — who are 14% of the 1.4 million active military — object to the policy because it blocks them from applying for some 238,000 jobs and excludes them from certain promotions. This is particularly unfair because the ban doesn’t actually protect women in service. Fully 85% of women who have served since Sept. 11, 2001 report having served in a combat zone or an area where they received combat or imminent danger pay, according to the lawsuit, and half reported being involved in combat operations. At least 860 female troops have been wounded and 144 killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Read Adam Cohen's full column
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Filed under: Veterans • What we think • Women
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Jorge

    I got an idea, let's take the Penn State sorority sisters who decked out as "Lazy Mexicans", dress them in Victoria's Secret Camo Lingerie (since they like costume so much), give them each a water gun full of Jack Daniels and set them loose in Kandahar. There, we include women in combat AND cull stupid out of society at the same time...

    December 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. TJ

    What everyone fails to understand is this, yes women have found themselves in combat, but there is a huge difference between having to defend yourself when the situation calls for it when your helicopter crashes or your vehicles disabled, and doing what Infantry, cavlary, tankers do. Which by definition is "to find, engage, close-with, and to kill" enemy combatants. That may be staying and fighting inside your tank for 3 strait weeks, or living on the side of an afghanny mountain with nothing but drinking water and MRE's for months and sorry ladies, tampons aren't standard issue. some few women may be able to keep up with the minium standards, but no one wants to share a foxhole with someone who can barely do the minium. male or female! WE want the best and being the best has alot to do with physical fitness, and women just aren't as fit.

    December 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • BarbH

      You say you were in the military. Did you go through training and testing to ensure you abilities to serve in a combat position? Did any of the "men" in training with NOT get sent to the front lines because they were not able to pass this rigorous testing? Do you suppose that is what the testing is for? Were women to be allowed in combat, I'll bet they would have to go through some training and testing too, right? Wait, I believe they do that already. Do you believe women can't defend themselves and their country by pulling the trigger on a weapon? I get the impression you believe any "man" could pull some 200 pound infantryman to safety, but no women can. Is that what you are saying? Are you also implying that the women serving around the world, in combat zones are somehow immune to having their periods in those situations? Other countries have had women in combat for thousands of years and oddly enough, we haven't heard anything about their soldiers not being able to take tampons with. I served in the military and in law enforcement. Now I work in the medical field and lift 200+ lb people on a continual basis, without benefit of adrenalin. Maybe I should have you here to help me, you bring strong man you.

      December 6, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TJ

    As a U.S. Army Infantryman, Who has spent 15 months in Baghdad in 06/07 and who's job during most of that time was a machine gunner, women.... We don't need you and we certainly don't want you. If I tossed you my 30lb machine gun with 40lbs of ammo on top of your 30 plus lbs or body armor, not to mention water, food, etc, etc, etc..... and you can't carry it, U have now become an unexceptable liability on this mission and having to accomadate U!!!! because you can't keep up will get not only get men, but women as well killed. When the 200lb guy next to you takes a round through both legs and you can't drag him to safety and he bleeds out, YOU will have to live with the fact that his mother has to bury her son because you want to pretend that combat should be fair and equal! I asure u!!! Combat is neither fair nor equal!!!!

    December 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Okay so just remove the ban and make women meet the same standards as men for combat positions. Problem solved. If no women can drag the 200 pound soldier to safety, than they shouldn't be on the front lines. If they can, then they should.

      December 7, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DH

    I totally support women being in combat. As the father of 2 young women I fully support and encourage my girls to follow their dreams. Just because I'm a man does not give me any greater ability to run, shoot, operate machinery, fly planes etc. What I do NOT support is any preferential treatment or lowering standards just for women. Equal is equal. I don't think the women in this article are asking for anything more than that.

    December 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Marine Veteran

    The trouble with women in combat in NOT the women, it's the men. Our society teaches men from childhood to protect women. Even when they don't need it. Our archaic views about women would lead to over reaction. My only fear is that some young soldier will lose his life trying to protect a woman who would have been quite capable of protecting herself if the young man had just done his job the way he would have if the other soldier had been a man instead of a woman. Also, envision an army dragging the raped and mutilated body of a woman down a street. We as a nation would not hesitate to level the city in which this atrocity occured. If it had been a man's body, we would be outraged, but our reaction would be more measured.

    December 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Someone Who Knows

    Niether of you know what you're talking about and I'm sure neither of you have been in a combat position with women on your left or right. I suggest you get some real world knowledge instead of saying the same old thing that you've heard from other people before making a judgment for or against. I know for a fact that the FET teams have earned the respect of the infantry guys that they serve next to....If they can do it, why not others as well.

    December 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Trollnamed

    I saw what you did there...
    It would be adverse to unit cohesion.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Unnamed

    Women should not be in combat roles because of men.
    The testosterone in a combat unit could not handle a female counterpart. It may not be right from an morally objective perspective, but then again neither is the world of military combat.

    December 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |