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Four female veterans who filed a lawsuit with the ACLU say combat exclusion is unfair and outdated, based on stereotypes, inhibits recognition and promotion of servicewomen—and ignores the realities of the modern battlefield.
Women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for the past decade, serving in a slew of military roles on a murky battlefield that knows no formal frontlines. Now, four veterans who have served tours in both countries—including those who have won Purple Hearts for their efforts—are suing for recognition of that reality, and the end to the rules that officially bar them from combat.
ACLU senior staff attorney Ariela Migdal, right, speaks beside ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill, left, on Nov. 27. Plaintiffs also present (background, left to right): U.S. Army reserve Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, U.S. Marine Corps reserve Capt. Zoe Bedell, and U.S. Marine Corps First Lt. Colleen Farrell. (Ben Margot / AP Photo)
“The combat exclusion policy is based on outdated stereotypes of women and ignores the realities of the modern military and battlefield conditions,” the four plaintiffs stated in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. “Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship—serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation.”
Certainly the servicewomen’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan tell the story of a modern military fighting unconventional wars whose realities have long defied its formal policies. Maj. Mary Hegar flew Medevac missions to rescue wounded soldiers. Shot down in Afghanistan while trying to evacuate her fellow soldiers, she returned fire while bringing them to safety and won a Purple Heart. Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt’s reconstruction team in Iraq was hit by an IED. And Marine Capt. Zoe Bedell led a 46-member Female Engagement Team in Afghanistan that went out in the insurgent-heavy Helmand province to build relationships and gather intelligence their male colleagues could not.
The women say the ban on their participation in combat is not only unfair, but outdated. And they go further to argue that the rules excluding them from combat harm America’s safety.
“It is not only punishing women by not recognizing the service they are performing, but it is also hampering our ability to fight effectively,” says Bedell, a graduate of Princeton University now working in investment banking. “This is actively hindering our leadership’s ability to pick the best people for the jobs.”
Eli Williamson of the McCormick Foundation hosts this week’s #vetchat.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week Eli Williamson, director of the veterans’ program at the McCormick Foundation, discusses why all of society’s good will toward veterans isn’t translating into better services for veterans. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
As speculation swirls about Defense Secretary Panetta’s likely exit, Michele Flournoy ranks high on the short list. Eleanor Clift on the woman who could be just right for the job.
It was just a year ago that Michele Flournoy stepped down as under secretary of Defense for policy, the third-highest civilian job at the Pentagon. As the first woman to hold such a senior position in the testosterone-laden military community, Flournoy’s decision to leave for family reasons raised some eyebrows. But she spent the time well, reclaiming her home life after three demanding years in the administration, and serving as a surrogate on foreign policy and national security issues for the Obama campaign. Now, as the president contemplates his second-term team, Flournoy is on the short list to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of Defense.
Her qualifications are impeccable. There are the requisite degrees from Harvard and Oxford, a stint at the Kennedy School and the Army War College. During the Clinton administration she worked at the Pentagon, tasked with developing and overseeing strategy and threat reduction. In 2007, she cofounded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank whose stated mission is to “develop strong, pragmatic, and principled national security and defense policies that promote and protect American interests and values.”
Flournoy’s cofounder at CNAS and close personal friend, Kurt Campbell, says, “She is a very serious person, incredibly buttoned down, very careful in all that she does, not at all headstrong.” He’s known her since they were students together at Oxford, and he’s watched her develop what he calls “a comfort level with the military” that combined with her intellect and leadership skills have made her “a mainstay in the Democratic Party in terms of how to think strategically about complex issues.”
Campbell points out that twice in a row, Democratic presidents (Clinton and Obama) turned to Republicans to run the Defense Department (Bill Cohen and Bob Gates). This pattern took shape in part due to a desire to win over Republican support; it “also reflected some anxiety about the strength of our own bench,” he says.
That concern may be a thing of the past. Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says Flournoy is “steeped in the challenges that we confront.” She served first under Defense Secretary Gates, and then under Panetta, “and has spent a great deal of time thinking how to deploy our military instruments economically and effectively.” With the war in Afghanistan winding down, and Obama shifting attention to Asia, the next Defense secretary will face existential questions about the future direction of defense resources. “She’s extremely well positioned to help the department answer those questions,” says Crowley (who is a contributor to The Daily Beast). “She’s absolutely a big-picture person.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, echoes Crowley in praising Flournoy’s knowledge and grasp of the issues, especially on Obama’s Asia rebalancing. “We’re going to need people on the next Obama team who have thought long and hard on China, and she can do that.”
After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, five soldiers met up in New York and began collecting the stories in 'Fire and Forget,' recounts Roy Scranton.
Fire and Forget is the first anthology of short fiction about our post-9/11 wars, and what comes next for those who served in them. It was edited and written by service members who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, along with one story by a military spouse. In an excerpt from the collection’s preface, editor Roy Scranton details how the core group that assembled the anthology met in New York.
Co-Editors Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, and writer Jake Siegel discuss ‘Fire and Forget,’ a collection of short fiction written by veterans.
One thing a vet will always tell you is that it’s never like it is in the stories. Then they’ll tell you theirs.
We convened at the White Horse Tavern, under the glum and bleary eyes of Dylan Thomas, Norman Mailer, and Jack Kerouac. It was a warm March day, not spring yet but with winter fading, eight years and change since we’d invaded Iraq. Afghanistan loomed shadowy behind that, then 9/11, then the Cold War, Vietnam, Korea, World War II, Pickett’s Charge, the Battle of Austerlitz, the conquest of New Spain, Agincourt, Thermopylae, and the rage of Achilles—stories upon stories—stories of war.
We had our own stories to tell, and in each other had found just the right audience to test the telling. There’d be no bullshit, yet we shared among us a subtle understanding that the real truth might never make it on the page. We each knew the problem we altogether struggled with, which was how to say something true about an experience unreal, to a people fed and wadded about with lies. As Conrad’s Marlowe put it, somewhere in another “war on terror”: “Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams.”
There’s always that wobble in war between romance and vision, between reality and imagination, between propaganda and what you lean on to survive. Each story has one ending, the same ending, and it can come sudden, silent, unseen: the street blows up under your feet or a sniper gets lucky. Who knows? Meanwhile, home is a place you lived once, a different person, a different life, and all the people you loved somehow alien. You come to depend on the hard matter of things, because what’s “real” so quickly goes up in smoke.
David Petraeus didn’t merely get caught in a tawdry sex scandal—he failed the soldiers who trusted him with their lives. Iraq war veteran Brian Mockenhaupt, author of the new Byliner Original, The Living and the Dead, calls the former general to account.
In the spring of 2011, I was embedded with a platoon of Marines at Patrol Base Dakota, an abandoned mud-walled farming compound in northern Marjah, in southern Afghanistan. I slept in the courtyard, on a cot under a canopy of camouflage netting, and had just woken up one morning in early May when Sergeant Tom Whorl, the platoon sergeant, stepped from his room and walked toward a row of wooden outhouses. “Hey,” he called to me, “bin Laden’s dead.”
A US Marine walks to his patrol of Marjah district in Helmand Province on May 25, 2011. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP / Getty Images))
The Marines discussed this for two or three minutes and made a few jokes.
“There should be birds here to take us home,” Sgt. Jake Powell said.
“Yeah,” Cpl. Helmut Eggl said. “War’s over.”
And that was it. Conversation shifted to maps and radio frequencies as the Marines readied for the day’s first patrol into the surrounding farmland and villages, where they had been battling the Taliban since arriving at Patrol Base Dakota four months earlier.
An exclusive excerpt from Brian Mockenhaupt's new Byliner Original, 'The Living and the Dead.'
With a patrol outside the wire, Patrol Base Dakota ran on a skeleton crew: a Marine in each guard post and a team leader manning the Combat Operations Center—a small desk in one of the mud-walled dirt-floored rooms—to relay messages between the patrol and higher-ups. Today the job fell to Lance Corporal Ryan Moore, at nineteen the youngest of the three team leaders in Sgt. Tom Whorl's third squad.
Ryan had grown up in Navarre, a town of maybe fifteen hundred in eastern Ohio, moved out at sixteen, and spent his high school years lifting weights, repairing cars, and smoking weed. In the Marine Corps he found his groove. He listened and he worked harder than others, and when he arrived at Camp Lejeune after boot camp and infantry training, Tom noticed and soon put him in charge of three other Marines. Ryan would rather have been outside the wire on this day leading his men through the farmland and villages of southern Afghanistan and trying to kill Taliban, but he knew the importance of his role back at Dakota, should the patrol find trouble.
Before the Marines walked out of the patrol base that morning, Ryan had hugged Corporal Ian Muller. They’d had enough close calls and heard enough terrible stories to know that life out here was utterly unpredictable. Many of the Marines made a point of telling their friends how much they cared about them.
“I love you,” Ryan said.
“I love you, too,” Ian told him.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week James Brobyn, executive director of the Travis Manion Foundation, discusses how we can empower veterans when they return home. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.
He has sprinted toward turmoil in war zones, jungles, and disaster areas from Iraq to Peru. This past week, Howard “Ford” Sypher did it again—in D.C. Abigail Pesta reports.
Howard “Ford” Sypher specializes in chaos. A former member of the elite Army Rangers, he served three tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Now a civilian, he and a team of war veterans chase disasters—tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, hurricanes in New York—to help people in the aftermath. He is used to the unexpected.
Sypher in South Sudan, where refugees battle floods, malnutrition, and disease. (Matthew Brudnok)
And so he was ready for action this week in Washington, D.C., when he came upon a sudden crisis on a busy city street. A car had swerved out of control, plowing into two other cars, then smacking into several people on the sidewalk. One woman was hit so hard, he says, “it blew her shoes and socks off.”
Sypher was in town for Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s inaugural Hero Summit, honoring military leaders and other people of courage. He had spoken at the summit about how veterans are coming together by the thousands through his nonprofit group, Team Rubicon, to serve as volunteers in disaster zones.
He didn’t expect to find himself in the middle of a disaster on the streets of the capital city. But when it happened, he knew what to do.
In a taxi on Friday when the accident occurred, he jumped out and ran to the people lying sprawled on the sidewalk. “I thought I was gonna find people in pieces,” he says. “I expected to find hamburger all over the place. Luckily, no one was dead.”
Admiral McRaven talked David Petraeus; Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and Ryan Crocker remembered fallen Ambassador Chris Stevens; Tina Brown interviewed Aaron Sorkin and Tony Kusher; and more highlights from The Hero Summit.
Newsweek and the Daily Beast's first annual edition of The Hero Summit produced a series of powerful and touching moments over two exhilarating days in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. The event brought together luminaries, statesmen, and military leaders including Adm. William McRaven, Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Gary Kasparov, Tony Kushner, Aaron Sorkin, and Bono, who interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, along with a host of service members, veterans, diplomats, and journalists, and others in a stirring conversation on the nature of courage and character.
The summit, hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, was presented by Jeep, along with IBM, USAA, and Mary Kay—and included as solution partners the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, The Mission Continues, Student Veterans of America, and Team Rubicon.
After rousing opening remarks on Wednesday evening from USIP President Jim Marshall, a former congressman and member of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame, Brown set the tone for the conference when she spoke of "this disconnect between those who've served and those who haven't ... When you talk to people in the military, there's a sort of quiet rage about that. They feel they have so much to talk about and so much to offer, but they're not really being heard and everyone just doesn't get it."
The night then kicked off with journalist Charlie Rose interviewing Adm. McRaven, who commanded the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. McRaven called resigned CIA Director David Petraeus "the finest general" he had served under. He also disclosed a new detail about the bin Laden raid, saying that while America did not inform the Pakistani government because it seemed inconceivable that the world's most-wanted man could be holed up so close to the country's prestigious military academy without their knowledge. But, he said, that assumption proved unwarranted: “We have no intelligence to indicate the Pakistanis knew he was there.”
(From left to right, top to bottom) Admiral William McRaven; panelists; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and Newsweek & The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, at The Hero Summit in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. (Scott Henrichsen (4))
McRaven was followed by the four-member crew of Dust Off 73, the Army medical evacuation team that spent three days in a continuous rescue operation in Eastern Afghanistan. The members, speaking with ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, shrugged off the "hero" label, stressing that they were doing the job they'd been assigned. Sgt. Julia Bringloe, the team's medic, also dismissed the idea that being a woman on the front lines distinguished her, saying: "it's a job, not a gender."
The president digs the much-buzzed-about film, its screenwriter, Tony Kushner, says at ‘Newsweek’ and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit.
Kushner would know. Just before arriving at the summit, he had dashed across town from a private screening he attended with Obama and the film’s director, Steven Spielberg, among others, at the White House.
Kushner joined moderator Tina Brown on a summit panel about the making of the film, saying he thought Obama “really liked it." The president's entourage also "seemed to like it," he said. "They all stood up.” Then he joked, “Maybe they do that every time.” Clearly having an unusual evening, he added with a laugh, as if to explain his somewhat harried state, “I just literally walked out of the White House. I couldn't find the limo.”
Kushner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Angels in America, said he wrote three drafts of the Lincoln script, which ultimately zoomed in on the president’s life during the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The film is based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Kushner said he “picked over words” in the final script with actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Lincoln in the film, “trying out different sentences—what if we did this, what if we did that.” Kushner called the back-and-forth a lot of fun.
Family members of wounded and fallen soldiers share strategies for surviving loss.
In one of the most poignant moments of Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit on Thursday, Patti Walker described the day she saw her husband after shrapnel had shot through his brain in Iraq.
From left: Deborah Roberts, Patti Walker, Bill Norwood, Lori Bell, and Kim Ruocco discuss losing loved ones. (Scott Henrichsen)
"The only way I recognized my husband was from the tattoos on his arms, because he was so incredibly swollen,” she said. The doctors told her to get busy and find a nursing home, as the prognosis was “a vegetative state at best.” Walker thought it was too soon for the doctors to determine her husband’s fate.
“I left the room,” she said, in a show of defiance.
Today, her husband, Kevin, sat in the audience at the summit, drawing a standing ovation. He has had a phenomenal recovery. “The vegetative state they thought he was gonna be in was not,” said Walker, who now works as an advocate for the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, which provides services for severely injured soldiers.
Walker was one of four panelists who described the toll war takes on families, and the grassroots groups that have cropped up to help.
Veterans could be America's secret economic weapon—if employers can get past their discrimination.
The unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans has become a national security issue, according to four veterans who have set up an organization to help other service members make the transition back into civilian life.
Captain Kaloa Hearne, right, speaks with Frances Mumtford, a representative with Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), during the Veterans Affairs Job Fair in Detroit on June 27, 2012. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images )
“If you look at all the military slogans, they’re about joining the military because you will be better off on the other side,” said Mike Haynie, the executive director and founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and a U.S. Air Force veteran, at The Hero Summit, presented by Newsweek and The Daily Beast. But in the face of high unemployment and the mental-health issues some veterans face on their return, he adds “those recruiting campaigns and those measures become pretty shallow.”
“I had to go from being a student before I was deployed to coming back and being a student again,” said Peter Meijer, of the struggles he felt when returning to school after deployment.
Peter joined the Student Veterans of America on the board of directors as a way to provide support in colleges across the country—there are currently 660 active chapters.
“So we do it together,” he said. From issues of acclimation “to issues of mental health, we try to get everyone in the same room talking. So you don’t have a guy who comes back who is older than everyone else and behind everyone and who is alone. We don’t want someone to suffer alone.”
From Adm. William McRaven’s praise for Holly Petraeus to U2 legend Bono’s sit-down with The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof to filmmaker Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Newsroom’ secrets, catch up on Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s first annual Hero Summit.
Aaron Sorkin has given the first details about Sony’s hotly anticipated Steve Jobs biopic, which will unfold in ‘real time’ and depict Jobs backstage at three product launches. Jace Lacob reports.
Sony’s upcoming Steve Jobs biopic will not be offering another twisty, non-linear perspective like 2010’s Oscar-nominated Mark Zuckerberg film, The Social Network, according to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
Speaking at Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit earlier on Thursday, Sorkin—who also created HBO’s media-skewering drama The Newsroom —offered some details about the upcoming film, which is based on Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of the Apple founder and late visionary.
“I hope I don't get killed by the studio for giving too much away,” Sorkin said, “but this entire movie is going to be three scenes, and three scenes only, that all take place in real time.”
Real time, Sorkin said, "is when a half hour for you in the audience is the same as a half hour for the character on the screen. There will be no time cuts. Each of these three scenes is going to take place before a product launch—backstage before a product launch. The first one being the Mac, the second one being NeXT (after he had left Apple), and the third one being the iPod."
Jobs’s launch of the Macintosh computer in 1984 effectively began Jobs’s meteoric climb; NeXT, in 1990, showed his efforts to begin anew after leaving the company he founded, and in 2001 the iPod singlehandedly changed the way that audiences consume media.
This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.
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