Women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for the past decade, serving in a slew of military roles on a murky battlefield that knows no formal frontlines. Now, four veterans who have served tours in both countries—including those who have won Purple Hearts for their efforts—are suing for recognition of that reality, and the end to the rules that officially bar them from combat.
"The combat exclusion policy is based on outdated stereotypes of women and ignores the realities of the modern military and battlefield conditions," the four plaintiffs stated in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. "Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship—serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation."
Certainly the servicewomen's experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan tell the story of a modern military fighting unconventional wars whose realities have long defied its formal policies. Maj. Mary Hegar flew Medevac missions to rescue wounded soldiers. Shot down in Afghanistan while trying to evacuate her fellow soldiers, she returned fire while bringing them to safety and won a Purple Heart. Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt's reconstruction team in Iraq was hit by an IED. And Marine Capt. Zoe Bedell led a 46-member Female Engagement Team in Afghanistan that went out in the insurgent-heavy Helmand province to build relationships and gather intelligence their male colleagues could not.
The women say the ban on their participation in combat is not only unfair, but outdated. And they go further to argue that the rules excluding them from combat harm America's safety.