Women in Combat: The Marines Take An Important First Step, But More Is Needed to Ensure Full Equality.

By Ariela Migdal, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project & Vania Leveille, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

Less than three months after the Pentagon announced that it was loosening the rules that bar women from being assigned to ground combat units, the Marine Corps followed suit, taking important steps to open up previously restricted opportunities to women. Last week, the Marines announced that women volunteers would be allowed to attend the Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, Va., for the first time, and that enlisted Marine women would also soon gain access to infantry training. This week, Marine Corps General James F. Amos sent a message to all Marines explaining that the Corps would begin assigning women to a number of positions from which they had previously been restricted, including in artillery, tank, assault amphibian, and other staffs, for purposes of "research" on integrating women into the force. He also announced that the Marines will conduct quantitative research on how men and women Marines perform in tests such as marching with a heavy load and lifting a heavy machine gun.

Like the Pentagon’s decision to allow some exceptions to the rules excluding women from combat, the Marines’ announcements are steps in the right direction, but more is required. While the Infantry Officers Course will be open to at least some women, those women are still not permitted to serve in the infantry once they complete the training. And while women will now be allowed to serve with artillery and other units from which they had previously been restricted, they will continue to do so in administrative, logistics and other support capacities.

The remaining restrictions on women serving in combat are out of date. The fact that women are already serving in combat is widely documented. But the rules that prevent women from being officially "assigned" to combat units prevent them from being recognized for the combat duty they do, and hinder their career advancement within the military, as the Military Leadership Diversity Commission recognized when it recommended doing away with the rules last year.

A large majority of Americans, perhaps recognizing the combat contributions women are already making on the ground, support removing these outmoded restrictions on women’s participation. For decades, the ACLU has been among the leaders in fighting to lift restrictions on women’s equal service within the military. We successfully challenged a law keeping women from serving in the Navy on seagoing vessels, and differential education requirements for men and women. We won’t give up until women’s equal service, and equal citizenship, is recognized.

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