AUSTIN -- As battle between U.S. troops and terrorist forces continues, another fight may be brewing closer to home, between the Pentagon and a group of female veterans who filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding women be allowed to serve on the front lines.
While women compose 14 percent of the nation's active military personnel, they're still officially excluded from most direct combat roles, a total the plaintiffs say amounts to 238,000 positions across the armed forces. At the same time, more than 1,000 women have been either wounded or killed since fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan began.
"Women are serving. That's the reality," said Army Cpt. Tasha Robles, who served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008. Like many who served in the Middle East, Robles says combat can happen anywhere. "You can't avoid it. we're in non-combatant positions where we're not on the front line, but we serve. You can't dictate where weapons come. You can't dictate where the fight will start. So women are there."
"There's not necessarily a front line," added Ssg. Eric Garcia. "Because it's not a traditional war like you would see in Vietnam or in World War II, where the lines were clearly designed."
Veteran P.K. Wright served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam war, and remembers when women were first allowed to serve as mechanics. He told KVUE that although initially against the idea, he soon grew to accept it. Wright says today's military could use even more women, although he has reservations about purposefully sending them into direct combat.
"I'm old school. I don't believe a woman should be exposed to that," said Wright. Fellow U.S. Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era Bill Bennett agreed, "The stress level in that is a whole lot different, you look at the PTSD that the soldiers have now."
So what about the next generation of soldier?
Sitting down with three cadets from the Texas Army ROTC Longhorn Battalion at the University of Texas, KVUE asked the college sophomores and future servicewomen their thoughts on the roles women should or shouldn't play when it comes to combat.
"I do believe there's a place," said Cadet Alyssa Kooter. "One of the biggest things I've learned in this program is that there is not really a difference between men and women, and they should be on an equal playing field."
"I agree," said Cadet Kelsey Peta. "It used to be we weren't even allowed in the military, so I think eventually one day it's going to head that way anyway."
"If they feel they can reach the same standards as the male soldiers and they think they're capable, then there shouldn't be a reason why they shouldn't be allowed to participate," summed up Cadet Marlene Archila.
A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Tuesday that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has already opened up some 14,500 combat positions to women, and is considering whether to open more. In the meantime, women's current role in the modern military is clearly appreciated.
"We couldn't do it without them," said Ssg. Garcia. "They're a huge, huge part of exactly what the United States Army does."