“But women are already dying,” she said. “The public may not realize it, but over 1,000 women have been killed or injured” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Haring, 50, is one of two Army Reserve officers who filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit last week against the Defense Department and the Army for barring women from certain combat units and other jobs solely on the basis of their gender. The suit amounts to a demand that women be given better odds at dying in combat, an interesting way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend.
Haring, a mother of three who has spent 28 years in the Army and Reserve, would have everything to lose if she were allowed to serve on the front lines. But she argues that it’s only fair that women get to choose whether to go into combat, no matter what their other roles in life are. Protecting women from combat is the same as saying men are expendable. And women are willing to accept greater risks to reap the greater opportunities that come with those risks, she said.
In the past 10 years, about 283,000 women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 800 have been injured and 139 have been killed, according to an April report by the Congressional Research Service.
There are about 250,000 jobs in the U.S. military that remain closed to women. Haring encountered those locked doors as soon as she graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1984.
“I couldn’t go into Ranger School,” she said. “I wanted to test myself, I was all gung-ho Army, but I couldn’t do that.”
Instead, she became a platoon leader, commander, executive officer and bridge commander. She is now a joint concept officer for the Joint and Coalition Warfighting Center in Suffolk, Va.
Her options, her lawsuit declares, “were limited to support positions with no possibility to compete within the combat arms.”
Funny thing is, though women such as Haring don’t get to go to the fabled Ranger School and train with the elite, they are nevertheless fighting and dying alongside the Rangers. And that’s one of the key points in the lawsuit.
Take the story of 1st Lt. Ashley White, a 24-year-old from Ohio. She was embedded with an Army Ranger unit in Kandahar province in Afghanistan when she and two Rangers were killed by a roadside bomb, Haring told me.
White was with the unit because she could do things — such as frisk women in burqas — that men couldn’t. “Women like her do this all the time,” Haring explained. The Army is going around the no-combat rule by attaching women to these units.
It’s a bogus way to do it. “They go into these units with a lack of training, and they are at greater risk without that training,” Haring said.
So, yes, women are unofficially in combat, through the back door and without the training they need. That’s one of Haring’s biggest concerns.