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Women serving in combat: US panel to recommend ban be lifted.

A US commission is expected to say that women should be allowed to fight on the front lines. The reality is that women are already serving in combat, says Army's Vice Chief of Staff.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / January 21, 2011

US Army General Ann E. Dunwoody, the first woman in US history to wear four stars, walks away after laying a wreath during a ceremony honoring female military veterans at the World War II Memorial on Veteran's Day in Washington on Nov. 11, 2010.

Karen Bleier/AFP Photo/Newscom/File

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Washington

The Pentagon should allow women to serve in combat: That’s the conclusion of a US government commission made up of current and retired officers and senior noncommissioned officers.

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The commission, established by Congress and the White House, is expected to send its recommendation to Capitol Hill and the White House in March.

Because they are not permitted to serve on the front lines, women – who make up 14 percent of the US armed forces – are routinely falling further behind men in their military careers, according to the nonpartisan Military Leadership Diversity Commission, charged with assessing whether the Pentagon promotes leaders who reflect the ranks of troops who serve beneath them.

The question has long been whether women are capable of handling the mental and physical rigors of combat. The commission pointed to long-standing concerns that “women in combat impede mission effectiveness because they cannot handle the same equipment or tolerate the same physical stress as men."

Yet in many cases, senior military officials point out, women already are. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, acknowledged this Wednesday when asked whether women should be allowed to serve in combat. “We have women in combat today,” he said.

What’s more, there are some indications that women may be more resilient than men, he added.

“I have not had an opportunity to look into that and dig into it, but I did look at our numbers for 2010 in women – women who committed suicide – and the numbers are very, very small. I believe we’re at somewhere in the vicinity of 7 percent, and that 93 percent are in fact males.... The resiliency of women – I may be out of school to state this – seems to be higher for whatever reason,” Charelli said.

What’s more, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restrictions on their service are often semantic, senior military officials noted. While women cannot be “assigned” to units likely to see combat, they can be “attached” to them and, in this way, fight in battles.

Such restrictions are largely outdated because of the types of wars America is fighting today, according to the commission’s draft report. The policies that bar women from combat “are based on the standards of conventional warfare, with well-defined linear battlefields. However, the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but conventional,” the report notes. “As a result, some of the military women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have already been engaged in activities that would be considered combat-related, including being co-located with combat units and engaging in direct combat.”

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