Super qualified army Col. Ellen Haring — West Point graduate, career officer, doctoral student — was excited when she heard she was close to getting her dream job: supervising female soldiers who work with Afghan women in combat zones for special-operations units. But then she got a call from a staff officer saying she wasn't qualified for unspecified reasons — and that the job was going to a lower-ranking male officer. What made him right for the job? Haring suspects it was his combat experience — something she lacks for reasons beyond her control.
As we've reported, the Pentagon opened 14,000 jobs to women earlier this year, including positions such as tank mechanic and artillery crew member. But 150,000 positions remain closed to women, and some aren't satisfied with the small concessions the military has made thus far. That's why Haring and another Army Reserve soldier are suing the military on grounds that such an exclusion of women is unconstitutional.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the lawsuit alleges that "the policy restricts women's earnings, promotions and retirement benefits" and "asks that all assignment and training decisions be made without regard to gender."
The Pentagon usually responds to similar claims with some form of "We're working on it! Chill!" For example, they've said the cost of separate facilities for women is an issue — Really? Women make up 14.5 percent of 1.4 million active-duty personnel and you won't build them some bathrooms? — and that combat is too physically grueling for women to handle — a point unfortunately highlighted by the two women who recently dropped out of the first-ever Marines Infantry Officer Training Course to accept women.
But Haring feels that women are "being held to standards that most men can't meet." For example, the Pentagon says that women wouldn't be able to carry a wounded 200-pound man off the battlefield. She said her husband and son — a weightlifter, no less — said they wouldn't be able to do that, either.
Moreover, the lawsuit argues that hundreds of women have been serving — and dying — in combat for years:
Haring contends that with no front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, women essentially have been serving in combat for years. More than 140 have been killed and 800 wounded. In "a cruel and potentially deadly irony," the lawsuit says, women on the cultural teams were blocked from combat arms training designed to help protect them in battle. The lawsuit also says the military circumvents the exclusion policy with semantics by "assigning" women to combat units rather than "attaching" them.
Does Haring's lawsuit have a chance? Elizabeth Hillman, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said the suit was strong but faces "a steep hill" because federal courts don't like to challenge long-standing military policies. And, last month, the Pentagon filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the basis that the president and Congress "are entitled to substantial deference" in areas of military expertise.
Perhaps they are. But the women who are fighting for our country overseas are also entitled to equal treatment.