The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.
But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”
The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”
Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.