Seeking to put women on the front lines of America's battles, a female senator has introduced a bill that would end the military's ground combat exclusion policy for women.
The Huffington Post reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Gender Equality in Combat Act, which would order the Pentagon to issue a report within a year setting a date to end the combat exclusion for women serving in the armed forces.
"I've heard from women all across New York who want nothing more than to take a leadership role on the front lines defending our country," Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Wednesday. "Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of who they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender," she added, referring to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the ban on gays serving openly among the ranks that was repealed in 2011.
In February, the Pentagon announced a policy shift that allowed servicewomen to take on more dangerous jobs closer to the front lines, such as combat medic and tank repair. But Sen. Gillibrand wants to go even further and grant full combat equality to female troops.
"We know that women can do anything they put their minds to, and they are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform," Gillibrand said. "When all of our best and brightest serve in combat our country is stronger for it."
Indeed, Pentagon figures show that 144 women have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 800 more wounded. And many of America's allies in the War on Terror already allow women to serve in close-combat situations. According to the British Ministry of Defense, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden all allow women on the front lines.
U.S. public opinion seems solidly behind the idea of allowing a greater combat role for female troops. According to a February Rasmussen poll, fully 54 percent of Americans favored full combat roles for women, while stipulating that they should be required to pass the same physical tests as men if they want to join the Special Forces.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Marine Corps -- arguably the toughest branch of the military -- announced that women's infantry training would be the same as men's, with female Marines subject to the same notoriously rigorous physical demands as the men. Female Marines will also be trained to lead men in battle.
"It's the same exact program of instruction a male lieutenant who's going to go on to become an infantry officer would get - exactly the same," Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Mills told the Marine Corps Times.
Rachel Natelson, legal director of the Service Women's Action Network, told the Huffington Post that it's about time for women to be allowed to step up and serve on the front lines.
"For all practical purposes, women already are on the front lines, and the rules that exclude them represent kind of an archaic concept of war," she said.
"There's also the larger civil rights issue, because if women can serve as capably as men, there's not justification for the military to exclude them," she added.
For Vernice Armour, the first African-American Marine combat pilot, the training that would go along with allowing women to serve on the front lines would be invaluable.
"Women are walking in harm's way just like the men," she said of female troops serving in America's current wars, "but they didn't get the training that the men got. They didn't go through the full infantry training. They had an abbreviated training, because that's the law. Not only are we doing much of the same thing, but we're putting our life on the line, with less preparation," she told the Chicago Tribune.
In announcing the expanded role for servicewomen in February, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hailed the "courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill" of America's female troops.
"Women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield. We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so," he said.
If Sen. Gillibrand has her way, women will soon have even more opportunities to serve and defend their country.
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