A lawyer for four servicewomen who sued the U.S. Department of Defense for the right to have combat duty said in San Francisco today that she and her clients are “thrilled” that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the lifting of the combat ban.

But American Civil Liberties Union attorney Elizabeth Gill said lawyers for the four women are going to “wait and see” before seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in San Francisco in November.

“We want to make sure the implementation of the repeal is fair and expeditious,” Gill said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the Defense Department will implement this change expeditiously,” she added.

The department’s plan for allowing women in combat roles is due in mid-May.
The servicewomen’s civil rights lawsuit is now pending before U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco. The department has not yet filed its response.

The four plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Army, Marine Corps and Air National Guard officers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Among other arguments, they said that because battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan lack clear boundaries and front lines, women are in effect already serving in combat, but are denied appropriate combat training and promotions.

One of the plaintiffs, California Air National Guard Major Mary Hegar, served as a helicopter pilot who rescued wounded soldiers in Afghanistan.

She was awarded a Purple Heart for a 2009 incident in which she was injured by a bullet that penetrated her helicopter, and she returned fire after the helicopter landed and came under attack.

A similar lawsuit filed by two female Army Reserve officers in May is pending in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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