Thursday, December 1, 2011

U.Va. student project aims to allow women in combat

Black Buzz News Service
Charlottesville, VA
December 1, 2011

Tally Parham, shown at right in 2003, flew combat missions in Iraq. Now, as a lawyer, she is the lead counsel for The Molly Pitcher Project at the University of Virginia. <span class='credit'>(Staff Sgt. Derrick C. Goode | U.S. Air Force)</span> 
Tally Parham, shown at right in 2003, flew combat missions in Iraq. Now, as a lawyer, she is the lead counsel for The Molly Pitcher Project at the University of Virginia. (Staff Sgt. Derrick C. Goode | U.S. Air Force)
By Kate Wiltrout
The Virginian-Pilot
© November 27, 2011
Four University of Virginia law school students - assisted by a professor and a high-flying law school alum - are gearing up to fight for the right of women to serve in combat, and they're interested in finding women in the military who want to join them.

Their effort, dubbed The Molly Pitcher Project, seeks to end military policies that categorically bar women from serving in units engaging in direct ground combat. The project takes its name from the woman who took over loading and firing a cannon after her husband fell ill during a Revolutionary War battle.

In the 1990s, Congress repealed laws banning women from flying combat aircraft and serving on warships. But positions in infantry and armor units, as well as special operations, are still off-limits. Earlier this year, a congressionally mandated commission recommended lifting all combat restrictions; Pentagon leaders are studying the issue and are expected to report back to Congress on the issue soon.

Kyle Mallinak is one of the second-year law students inspired to work for change after discussing the issue in a law and public policy class last spring.

He emphasized that the aim isn't to change physical fitness standards or establish a quota for women. The goal is to allow women who meet the military's standards to serve in any job. Women make up about 15 percent of the active-duty military.

"This is not about diversity at its core. It's not about a belief that we need a certain amount of women in everything," Mallinak said. "It's about individual dignity."

Anne Coughlin, the professor who taught the course and serves as a sponsor for the project, said women should be allowed to compete for jobs in elite units.

"We're not asking for special privileges, but if there are women who are fit and want to step up, the military should allow them," Coughlin said.

The military acknowledges that it can't operate in combat theaters without women in the ranks, Coughlin said, noting that in Iraq and Afghanistan, women have been killed in action and some have been awarded prestigious medals for bravery under fire.

"What we're just asking them to do is acknowledge, formally, publicly, honorably, what these women are doing," Coughlin said.

The Pentagon could propose that women be allowed to serve in some or all billets that are currently off-limits. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, has said he would like to see more jobs in combat battalions open to women, though he has stopped short of calling for an end to all gender-based limits.

The Pentagon could decide to change its policies on women in combat without congressional approval - doing so would require only notifying lawmakers. That's different from the landmark decision this year to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military, a change that required Congress' support.

Another way to end the restrictions would be to challenge them in court as unconstitutional.

"It would be perfectly fine for us to never see a courtroom," Mallinak said, "But given the glacial pace that change comes at the Pentagon, we'd want to be prepared to litigate if necessary."

That's where Tally Parham comes in. Parham, who graduated from U.Va.'s law school in 1996, recently agreed to serve as lead counsel for The Molly Pitcher Project. An attorney in Columbia, S.C., she also knows a thing or two about serving in combat: as an F-16 pilot with the South Carolina Air National Guard, Parham flew air strikes in Iraq in the opening days of the war in 2003.

"I think the No. 1 test for the composition of any military fighting force is, what enhances combat effectiveness? What enhances military readiness?" Parham said. The most important individual traits for military success are skill, courage, determination and discipline, she said. "We've proven over and over and over again, none of those qualities are gender-specific."

Although Parham continues to serve in the Guard, she's involved in The Molly Pitcher Project as a lawyer and private citizen, and is working on the effort pro bono.

She said she understands that women on active duty, especially young ones, might not want to make waves by talking about what they can't do in the military. As a young pilot trying to prove herself, she said, she tried to stay away from discussions about gender and simply focused on doing her job as well as she could.

"I'd always hoped that at the point where we had large numbers of women in the leadership, change would just naturally occur," Parham said.

But that hasn't happened, so it's time to do more, she said.

"If there are women out there who are willing to challenge these issues of unfairness, then I'm happy to be their advocate."

Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629,

Commentary of the Black Buzz News Service.

The  Black Buzz News Service supports the ideas and concepts in the Molly Pitcher Project by four University of Virginia law school students,  a law school faculty member, and the highly distinguished lead counsel Tally Parham.

We believe that as citizens of the United States of America, females should enjoy all the rights and privileges enumerated in the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT of the United States Constitution.

Wherein the practice of barring women solely on the basis of their sex from certain combat roles in the United States Military which is supported by public tax dollars appears to be a blatant violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

It is also our position that there shall by no restrictions/prohibitions on females serving in any combat role or capacity in all branches of the United States Armed Forces including the NAVY SEALS, DELTA FORCE, ARMY RANGERS, SPECIAL FORCES in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy.

The physical fitness readiness standards in all training for combat military positions should be the same for women as men in all branches of the United States Military Armed Forces. The United States Military should  not be required to make a reasonable accommodation for women in their efforts to integrate women into all combat positions in said forces.
Women should have to meet the same high standards and physical qualifications as men without any exceptions for all combat positions in said military.
 A good efficient soldier must have the following characteristics in order to be effective:
1.  High level of Skill
2.  Great Courage
3.  Great Determination
4.  Great Discipline

* Any lowering of the physical fitness readiness standards solely on the basis of sex will harm the efficiency standards that are needed to accomplish  the mission of the United States Armed Forces.
Further we believe that women should be given the right and opportunity to succeed or fail on their own accord for any combat position in any branch of the United States Armed Forces.

                                                       By Ronald B. Saunders

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