The Pentagon’s dilemma: women are in combat–just not officially

Updated
Plaintiff Zoe Bedell, who is a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps reserves, listens during a media conference Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, in San Francisco. Several...
Plaintiff Zoe Bedell, who is a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps reserves, listens during a media conference Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, in San Francisco. Several...
Ben Margot/AP Photo

Since 2001, over 280,000 women have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. One hundred and forty-four have lost their lives. Now four servicewomen have taken their argument–that in a war with no front lines, there’s no daylight between being deployed to a combat zone and being “in combat”–to federal court. Marine Corps Captain Zoe Bedell, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and ACLU Attorney Ariela Migdal told Andrea Mitchell Monday why they’re suing the Pentagon for barring them from direct combat.

“To be clear, women are serving in combat,” Bedell said. She headed two Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan that lived with and accompanied combat infantrymen on missions–sometimes patrolling more than the men, carrying the same heavy gear. “If that unit was attacked, they were attacked with them,” Bedell said. “So I do want to make clear: women are in combat and we’re asking that the policy be changed to reflect the reality of what’s happening on the ground.” According to the ACLU, her unit’s contributions were not officially recognized as combat experience because they “were considered temporary duties outside of the servicewomen’s official specialties.

“Women are serving in combat, serving in these roles, but they’re not being assigned to these units and that’s where the discrepancy comes in,” Bedell told Andrea Mitchell. “So women are not getting opportunities to do all the same training that the units supporting are doing when they go to Afghanistan, and then afterwards they’re not recognized for the contribution they’ve made. So whether that’s a question of getting equal access to veteran benefits or promotion opportunities for jobs that would require combat experience, women aren’t getting the recognition there and it means that the best people aren’t being selected for the jobs, which hurts the military’s competitiveness overall.”

The Pentagon opened more than 14,000 previously restricted jobs to women last February after considering a study on the changing role of women in the military. That leaves about 240,000  jobs, mostly in the Army and Marine Corps, closed to women. The Defense Department issued a statement last week saying that the armed services would “continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women.”

The complaint, filed last week, is now in federal district court. “I think the question for the Pentagon is whether this is a policy that you come in and try to defend at this point after ten years of women doing these jobs,” Migdal said Monday.

The Pentagon's dilemma: women are in combat--just not officially

Updated