Women Fighting and Dying in War, Despite Combat Exclusion Policy

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"In both Iraq and Afghanistan, female troops have worked from day one outside the wire," Chase told ABC News. "In war, you do what you can. You can't withhold somebody because of their gender. If you are in charge of an aid station with three female medics, and this infantry unit needs another medic, you're sending them a medic. Rules in combat are very different."

But while Chase served alongside men and carried the same weapons, the policy precluded her from having the same combat training as the infantrymen.

"When women are 'attached' to these ground infantry units, we are actually more vulnerable because we don't have the same level of training as the men that we support," she said.

In addition, she said, teams train together as a unit, which allows them to create team cohesion, build rapport, and understand everyone on the team's strengths and weaknesses so that in a combat situation, everyone knows what to do, and how each other will react.

From the first day a soldier enters the Army, she said, the basic combat training that combat support units undergo differs greatly from the training that infantry units receive.

The policy also precludes female officers from leading ground combat units. Not only does the rule prevent women from gaining the experience they need to win promotions to the military's top ranks, Chase said, it does not always reflect reality on the battlefield.

"Downrange," Chase said, "women have stepped up to serve in leadership roles when necessary, including acting as a commander of an all-male unit."

When asked about her colleague's experience Chase said, "She brought all her soldiers home, it doesn't matter who brings them home, as long as they all come home."

"You want the best person leading your team. The ability to make decisions under pressure, keep your composure, remain calm and collected, all while maintaining your courage under fire -- those attributes are not gender specific."

Recently, the congressionally-mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that the DOD rescind the combat exclusion policy. Commission chair retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles said rescinding the policy is one way the military can get more qualified women into its senior leadership ranks.

"Women serving in combat environments are being shot at, killed and maimed," Lyles said in March. "'But they're not getting the credit for being in combat arms."

Lainez said department officials "will thoroughly evaluate" the panel's recommendations as part of their ongoing review of diversity policies. Meantime, she said, "Women will continue to be assigned to units and positions that may necessitate combat actions within the scope of their restricted positioning - situations for which they are fully trained and equipped to respond."

"The Department is committed to performing the comprehensive and expansive review of the laws, policies, and regulations restricting service of female service members, and will provide Congress with a report as required upon completion of the review," Lainez said.

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