Female soldiers sue to lift combat ban
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two female soldiers filed suit on Wednesday to scrap the U.S. military's restrictions on women in combat, claiming the policy violated their constitutional rights.
Command Sergeant Major Jane Baldwin and Colonel Ellen Haring, both Army reservists, said policies barring them from assignments "solely on the basis of sex" violated their right to equal protection under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
"This limitation on plaintiffs' careers restricts their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits," the women said in the suit filed in U.S. District Court.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Secretary John McHugh are among the defendants. Baldwin is from Tallahassee, Florida, and Haring lives in Bristow, Virginia.
The Pentagon unveiled a new policy in February that opened up 14,000 more positions to women in the military. It still barred them from serving in infantry, armor and special-operations units whose main job is front-line combat.
Defense Department spokesman George Little declined to comment on the lawsuit. He said Panetta was "strongly committed to examining the expansion of roles for women in the U.S. military, as evidenced by the recent step of opening up thousands of more assignments to women."
Women make up about 14.5 percent of active-duty military personnel. More than 800 women have been wounded and more than 130 killed in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lawsuit said.
"The linear battlefield no longer exists," Baldwin and Haring said. They alleged that women are engaged in combat even when it is not part of their assigned roles.
Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno said last week the Army was considering letting women attend its elite Ranger School and opening up infantry and armor positions to women.
More than 200 women had begun reporting to maneuver battalions and combat teams last week, he said.
The case is Baldwin et al v. Panetta et al in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 12-cv-00832.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)