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Entries in Combat Exclusion Policy (1)

Monday
May302011

Women Fighting and Dying in War, Despite Combat Exclusion Policy

Jupiterimages/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- By this Memorial Day, nearly 150 U.S. female troops have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with over 700 wounded. Although Department of Defense policy precludes women from being assigned to ground combat-infantry units, women have for years served in combat situations where they're just as vulnerable.

Marine Lance Corp. Angelica Jimenez, 26, was one of them.

On June 25, 2005, Jimenez was riding in the back of a truck carrying 14 female Marines near the Iraqi hotbed of Fallujah. The all-female unit was tasked with searching and questioning Iraqi women at security checkpoints, ensuring they were not armed with explosives. Since females were not allowed to sleep at the checkpoints as their male counterparts were, every day the women would be driven to and from an American base, making them a visible target each time they hit the road. It was only a matter of time before their luck would run out, and that night, it did.

A car approached their convoy, moments before it ran straight towards the women's truck. Packed with explosives, it detonated on impact, enveloping all 14 women in a deadly fireball. Most of the women were severely burned. Two women died immediately, one later that night, in what would become the deadliest attack on servicewomen since 1991.

Jimenez was knocked unconscious. She remembers waking up, directly in the line of insurgent fire, her flak jacket covered in blood, her M-16 gone.

Since 1994, the Department of Defense's combat exclusion policy prohibits the assignment of women to any unit below brigade level when the unit's primary mission is direct combat on the ground. However, according to DOD spokesperson Eileen Lainez, the policy does not "preclude women from being involved in ground combat."

Blurring the lines further, the Army precludes women from being "assigned" to ground combat infantry units, but allows them to be "attached" to such units, where they often perform the same roles their male counterparts would.

The policy defines ground combat as "engaging the enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force's personnel." Genevieve Chase, veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and founder of American Women Veterans, found herself in that situation while serving in 2006 in the hotspots of Helmand and Bagram, where counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes building relationships with locals including Afghan women who won't talk to a male stranger.

"In both Iraq and Afghanistan, female troops have worked from day one outside the wire," Chase told ABC News. "In war, you do what you can. You can't withhold somebody because of their gender. If you are in charge of an aid station with three female medics, and this infantry unit needs another medic, you're sending them a medic. Rules in combat are very different."

But while Chase served alongside men and carried the same weapons, the policy precluded her from having the same combat training as the infantrymen.

The policy also precludes female officers from leading ground combat units. Not only does the rule prevent women from gaining the experience they need to win promotions to the military's top ranks, Chase said, it does not always reflect reality on the battlefield.

Recently, the congressionally mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that the DOD rescind the combat exclusion policy. Commission chair retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles said rescinding the policy is one way the military can get more qualified women into its senior leadership ranks.

Today, women make up about 15 percent of active-duty service members; 18 percent of National Guard and reserves; 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans; and 10 percent of those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

The idea of women serving in ground combat infantry units has been controversial throughout U.S. history. Arguments against women serving in combat center around the physiological and purported emotional differences between men and women, as well as the interaction between men and women that could distract from a mission.

Chase agrees there will have to be a thorough review on whether to rescind the policy, and that rescinding without a plan as to how to implement changes would be premature. But, she added, "It's long past time to revise the current policy so that it accurately reflects the capacity with which women have and will continue to serve in our armed forces. It gives combatant commanders the ability to truly build the most cohesive, well-trained and effective teams for their respective missions."

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