Women in combat: More possible now

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By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – A couple of Asian Pacific Americans newly elected to the U.S. House of Representatives may yet be the sparks that could force the military to allow women in combat.

Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, both Democrats, were honored recently, along with 10 men, all veterans, who will serve in the 113th Congress opening in January.

In an event honoring military veterans newly elected to Congress, hosted by national veteran nonprofit GotYour6 Thursday night, Gabbard and Duckworth stood out.

Their election on Nov. 6 marked the first time in history two female combat veterans will serve in public office. Of the 10 male veterans, nine were Republicans.

Duckworth, whose mother is from Thailand, is the more colorful and feisty of the two women.

Even before Congress could start, she has caused quite a stir when she said she’d support a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Department of Defense.

The lawsuit urges the Pentagon to lift the ban on women in combat.

“I fully support the ongoing effort to allow women to officially serve in more combat arms specialities, as I did as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq,” Duckworth wrote in an e-mail to the ACLU, and reported by U.S. News & World Report.

. “Women have played a significant role in our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and … it is clear that America‘s daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons,” she wrote.

Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the progressive women’s group the National Women’s Law Center, said the election of Gabbard and Duckworth may help spur the ACLU effort forward.

“They are very credible voices as women who have actually been in combat and can make the case for why women can do the job,” she said, she told U.S. News & World Report.

It was in her role as a co-pilot of a Blackhawk helicopter through an insurgent attack in Iraq in 2004 that she lost both her legs.

A former Obama assistant secretary of veterans affairs, Duckworth beat Joe Wash, Tea Party favorite and considered a “loudmouth” by most  Democrats for Illinois 8th District.

“My strength is in finding ways to make the government work for the people,” she told Mother Jones in an interview this summer, “finding waste, or money that is not being properly used…or finding opportunities that are out there and making them work for the community.”

Gabbard was a company commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard  when she deployed in 2004 as a medical operations specialist for a year-long combat tour near Baghdad.

In 2009, she deployed a second time to the Middle East, and helped train the Kuwait National Guard.

Gabbard did not explicitly say she would support the ACLU lawsuit, but at the Democratic National Convention, she spoke favorably of the expanding numbers of women in the military.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at facebook.com/BertEljera

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