Round Rock pilot victorious in lawsuit over women in combat

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by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and photojournalist MATT OLSEN

Bio | Email | Follow: @KrisB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 23, 2013 at 11:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 23 at 11:21 PM

AUSTIN -- It's an announcement expected Thursday that will change the military landscape forever.

“I had my 11-year old stepdaughter tell me she wanted to be a Marine, and I was like ‘yay!’ Then she came to me the next day and told me that an authority figure had told her 'you can't do that, that's a boy's job,’" said Major Mary Hegar, a member of the Air National Guard.

But no longer will combat roles be considered a “boy’s job” in large part, because of Hegar.

She was on the front lines in Afghanistan in 2009 flying a med-evac mission, when her helicopter was shot down.

“I engaged the enemy in ground combat for 20 minutes,” Hegar said.

Hegar survived, and last year she was one of four women to sue Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to challenge the military’s long-standing ban on women in combat; a ban senior defense officials say Panetta will lift on Thursday.

“This lawsuit wasn't about forcing open jobs. It was about lifting the blanket ban so that we had the freedom to look at some of these jobs more closely,” said Hegar, referring to the estimated 230,000 jobs that will open up as a result of the ban being lifted.

Colonel Jeffrey Staha teaches ROTC cadets at the University of Texas, and he told KVUE that “as a group commander in Iraq in 2010, one of my squadrant commanders was a female. I don't see gender when I’m dealing with my leaders in the field.”

However, Staha said women's physical limits in the battlefield will need to be evaluated.

“The combat roles, that has to be addressed whether the standards are going to be separate because those that have entered the infantry - those standards are very high and they're high for a reason," Staha said.

Regardless, Major Hegar said lifting the ban is a victory for women everywhere.

“The fact that I can help people like my stepdaughter achieve her dream - you can't really put words to that,” she said.

The military services have until 2016 to make a case that some positions should remain closed to women. Those decisions will be based on field studies to take place over the next several years.

 

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