La Repubblica, Italy
Female US Soldiers Fight for the Right
to Serve on the Front Lines
By Francesca Cafferi
Translated By William Tew
29 November 2012
Edited by Hana Livingston
Italy - La Repubblica - Original Article (Italian)
One woman speaks out among those who have brought a suit against the U.S. Department of Defense, which currently forbids women from serving on the front lines. Aside from contesting the policy based on principle, the women also object to the economic and career disparities that it generates.
"I am well aware that I am violating rule number one for every Marine: don’t question authority, don't wash your dirty laundry in public, always follow the rules. But I'm doing it for a good cause. For the women like me who have fought and are fighting in the name of the ideals of the United States of America, and they do not see their work recognized."* Lt. Colleen Farrell is not afraid to enter history through the front door. Together with three colleagues, two days ago she filed suit against the U.S. Department of Defense demanding that they recognize the right of female soldiers to fight on the front lines – a right denied by the rules of the armed forces.
"It's an absurd rule," said the lieutenant during a phone call, "Women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it can't be reported because the U.S. officially prohibits women from fighting on the front lines."
Farrell spoke with the precision that comes only from direct experience. During her months in Afghanistan, she led a Female Engagement Team, an all-female squad in the Marines. They were tasked with building trust in the female population, with the goal of providing assistance to civilians and gathering useful information about rebel activities to report to commanders. "My women and I," she recounts, "ended up under fire and were exposed to the dangers of IEDs, the improvised bombs that have killed hundreds of soldiers. We lived in the most remote camps together with our male colleagues, returned fire with them, did the same exercises, used the same weapons. But today no one wants to recognize it. It's enough and we're tired; we want a change and it must come immediately, before people forget what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The last two conflicts have carried the U.S. armed forces into an era of change. One of the biggest changes was that women, though formally excluded from the front line, found themselves, in practice, fighting in the same way as their male comrades. According to experts, this is a consequence of conflicts that rarely have clear and defined battlefields, where fighting is instead in city streets, country lanes, and dirt alleys of villages.
To understand the scope of the issue, simply scan the histories of the women who have filed the suit along with Farrell. All have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, some more than once. Two of them have received the Purple Heart, the oldest military honor in the U.S., reserved for those who fall or are wounded in combat. All have found themselves under attack, forced to return fire from vehicles partially destroyed by IEDs or damaged by helicopter missiles.
For them, it is not only a question of principle. They officially cannot go to the front line and are precluded from some 200,000 positions, with significant effects on possibilities for career advancement and higher pay.
One of the four main soldiers involved in the case, Capt. Zoe Bedell, left active duty after being held back to work in a logistics position because positions on the front line were closed to her. "Cases like these are the result of rules that no longer correspond to today's reality. It's time to change," concluded Farrell.
* These quotes, while accurately translated, could not be verified.
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