Female Soldiers Sue in Challenge to Combat Limits
Two female soldiers asked a federal judge to throw out the U.S. military’s restrictions on women in combat, claiming the policy violates their constitutional rights.
U.S. Army reservists Jane Baldwin and Ellen Haring, in a lawsuit filed today in Washington, said policies excluding them from assignments “solely because they are women” violate their right to equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution’s 5th Amendment. The complaint names Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Secretary John McHugh as defendants.
“This limitation on plaintiffs’ careers restricts their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits,” the women said in the complaint filed by Christopher Sipes of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington.
The Pentagon in February announced a change in policy that opened more than 14,000 additional positions to women across the armed services, most of them in the Army. Still, it stopped short of allowing women to serve in so-called ground combat assignments, including special forces and long range reconnaissance operations.
George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit. He said in an e-mail that Panetta “is strongly committed to examining the expansion of roles for women in the U.S. military, as evidenced by the recent step of opening up thousands of more assignments to women.”
Women on Duty
Women make up about 14.5 percent of active-duty military personnel, according to Pentagon figures, and the Army is continuing to review whether infantry positions should be open to women in the future. It is also considering whether to let female soldiers attend its elite Ranger School.
Women increasingly have been exposed to combat as traditional front lines of battle have become blurred in wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army spokesman George Wright said women assigned to those arenas “have served with distinction and honor in combat since the beginning of hostilities more than a decade ago,” earning awards such as the Combat Action Badge, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. Wright declined to comment on the lawsuit.
At least 144 female troops have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and more than 860 have been wounded, according to the Pentagon. About 280,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began.
“The linear battlefield no longer exists,” the women said in the complaint, describing as “arbitrary and irrational” the combat restrictions for women.
“Woman are currently engaged in direct combat, even when it is not part of their formally assigned role,” the reservists said. Furthermore, the Army has “deliberately circumvented” its own policies by “attaching” women to ground combat units.
“There is no practical difference, in terms of the work that servicewomen do, between ‘assigning’ women to a ground combat unit and ‘attaching’ women to a ground combat unit,” the women said in the complaint.
More than 200 women reported to brigade combat teams as of last week as the Army begins opening more than 13,000 positions to women that previously were restricted to men, General Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said at a May 16 Pentagon news conference.
The case is Baldwin v. Panetta, 12-00832, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia(Washington).
— Editors: Fred Strasser, Larry Liebert
To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington firstname.lastname@example.org; David Lerman in Washington at email@example.com; Sara Forden in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.