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.
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Among elected officials, feelings are mixed about women serving in combat. It has long been considered a politically dicey proposition, given concerns that should female casualties spike, the nation might quickly lose its appetite for war.Skip to next paragraph
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Within the military, too, there is division about the prospect. The commission notes that when men in the Army and the Marine Corps were asked about the combat exclusion policy, the majority said the gender exclusions should remain – and the percent increased with rank. However, those figures date from 1997, and senior officials suggest that the current wars have prompted shifts in thinking, and that men who have served with women have fewer misgivings about having them on the front lines.
Few women in the military support the combat exclusions. But debate continues among them over whether women should be able to volunteer for combat arms units, or whether they should be assigned to these units just like their male counterparts.
While the commission’s recommendations to the White House and Congress are slated to come in March, the issue of women in combat is not likely to be the Pentagon’s top priority in the months ahead, as it grapples with new budget constraints and integrating openly gay soldiers into the military.
"The appropriate folks here will thoroughly review and carefully consider the commission's recommendations, but frankly we are already in the midst of preparing for another significant cultural change, so that is where our focus is right now," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Reuters.
Advocates tend to agree. “Given all of the emotional politics around 'don’t ask, don’t tell,' I don’t know to what extent politicians are going to take on women in the military in any large way,” says Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network.
But they note that regardless of politics, women will continue to play a greater role on the front lines. “Women are in effect in direct ground combat everyday,” says Ms. Bhagwati.
“It’s exciting – all of the prohibitions on putting women on the so-called front lines are based so much on false stereotypes of women. The fact of the matter is that the more you segregate women in the military, the less exposure men have to women and the less they realize how talented they are,” she adds. “Politics may not catch up this year, but I fully expect to see progress on the battlefield.”