A US Military panel has recommended [report, PDF] in its latest report released Friday that women should be allowed to serve on the front lines of combat. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) [official website], comprised of retired and current military leaders, says that women, who under current defense policy are prohibited from serving in direct line-of-fire combat, should be permitted to serve in combat and that integration of women into combat forces would have no ill effects. The commission recommends a "time-phased" approach to the implementation of new combat policies that would create additional career options for women that include "direct ground combat." The report addressed common concerns among military officials that inclusion of women in combat forces would present problems with unit cohesion and that the current policy is effective due to current warfare techniques. The commission's conclusion is that in Iraq and Afghanistan women have already been exposed to combat-related activities, with no negative effects, and that the current policy is discriminatory to women. Commissioner Mary O'Donnell [official profile] called the current military policy banning women from combat discrimination "of the first order":
This is 2010, and as we look at outyears for war, it will probably be much more electronic than it is now. We have things from Creech Air Force Base fighting unmanned vehicles in Afghanistan right now. So we cannot look at the war that was fought in Vietnam and compare that to today or future wars. It's going to be totally different. This has to do with every American citizen being able to be considered for anything that they are qualified to do. It's about discrimination at its very basics.The commission's overall recommendation was to eliminate all barriers preventing women from combat-related activities in the military and to gradually phase in new policies over the next few years. The commission will present its findings [AP report] to President Barack Obama [official website] and Congress later this year.
The commission report comes on the heels of the repeal of the military's controversial "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive]. In December, President Obama signed into law [JURIST report] a bill to repeal the policy. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 [HR 2965 materials] was approved in the Senate after being passed [JURIST reports] by the House of Representatives. The Obama administration had been pushing Congress to repeal DADT as courts have also been weighing in on the issue. Earlier this year, three former service members discharged under DADT filed a complaint against the Department of Defense seeking reinstatement [JURIST report] and the declaration that their discharges under the statute, and the statute itself, are unconstitutional. In November, US Air Force Major Margaret Witt, who was discharged under DADT, became the first openly gay person to serve in the US military after the Obama administration did not pursue a stay of a previous federal court decision ordering her reinstatement [JURIST reports].