By Tom Schoenberg, David Lerman and Sara Forden
Two female soldiers asked a federal judge Wednesday to throw out the U.S. military’s restrictions on women in combat, claiming that the policy violates their constitutional rights. U.S. Army reservists Jane Baldwin and Ellen Haring said in a lawsuit that policies excluding them from assignments “solely because they are women” violate their right to equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. The complaint names Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Secretary John McHugh as defendants. The Pentagon in February announced a change in policy that opened more than 14,000 additional positions to women across the armed services, most of them in the Army. Still, it stopped short of allowing women to serve in so-called ground combat assignments, including special forces and long-range reconnaissance operations. Women make up about 14.5 percent of active-duty military personnel, according to Pentagon figures, and the Army is continuing to review whether infantry positions should be open to women in the future. It is also considering whether to let female soldiers attend its elite Ranger School.
Women increasingly have been exposed to combat as traditional front lines of battle have become blurred in wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least 144 female troops have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and more than 860 have been wounded, according to the Pentagon. About 280,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began. More than 200 women reported to brigade combat teams as of last week as the Army begins opening more than 13,000 positions to women that previously were restricted to men, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said at a May 16 news conference.