A new federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of several women in the military will challenge the U.S. Defense Department's formal policy that excludes women from most direct ground combat positions. As of now, over 238,000 military jobs are off limits to women, despite the fact that they make up 14% of active duty military personnel. Furthermore, the Defense Department's policy, while meant to protect female soldiers, has become increasingly impractical in modern day warfare where women are often caught on the ground in combat zones while providing medical care, delivering supplies or accompanying male infantry units into the field.
Capt. Zoe Bedell, a U.S. Marine who led female engagement teams in Afghanistan, left active duty last year because the policy limited her opportunities for promotion. Though her teams accompanied male infantry units into combat zones where they lived and worked in the exact same positions as their male counterparts, they were never given the same training or opportunities for advancement. Says Bedell, "The modern battlefield means there are no front lines or safe areas...My Marines supported infantry units. They patrolled every day. They wore the same gear. They carried the same rifles. And when my Marines were attacked, they fought back."
Bedell is represented in the ACLU's lawsuit, which claims that the Defense Department's policy is unconstitutional because, according to the LA Times, "the sweeping restriction based on gender is...not justified by a specific governmental objective, as the U.S. Supreme Court has required."
Supporters of the exclusion argue that the policy should remain in place because of two primary reasons. First, it is believed by some that women lack the physical strength to serve in ground combat and, secondly, there's the worry that male soldiers will be distracted from their missions by "acts of chivalry" or the need to protect their female coworkers. While those reasonings are a discredit to both the physical and mental capabilities of women and men in the military, they are also highly unrealistic. As pointed out by Capt. Bedell, women are already fighting in combat zones — they're just not getting the credit.