ACLU Extends Deadline Again to Pentagon Plan for Women in Combat

Draft version of plan already circling Secretary Hagel's office, sources say.

(Ted S. Warren/AP)

U.S. Army soldiers talk to reportersabout the decision announced by defense leaders to open a quarter-million combat and other military positions to service members regardless of gender.

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The ACLU has given another extension to the Pentagon to explain how it will integrate women into combat roles, a spokeswoman tells U.S. News.

[READ: Military Won't Reveal Women in Combat Plans as Deadline Passes]

A lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union is still pending against the Department of Defense, filed before then-Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles last January. Service branches had until mid-May to submit plans to the Pentagon chiefs for how they would integrate women, then the department had to report back to the ACLU on that process within three weeks, ending June 5, per the terms of the suit.

Defense sources tell U.S. News a draft plan for integrating women into combat is circling around Secretary Chuck Hagel's E-Ring offices. Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, says the advocacy group has agreed to give the Pentagon time to prepare an official report to Congress in July, and further time to file a response to its suit in the fall.

"In the way that we do in every litigation, we are often willing to extend the deadline," Lapidus says. "It's not indefinite. We are agreeing that we will meet and confer again following the DOD submission of this report to Congress by Aug. 20."

"There's a lot that has to happen. We have no idea what they are doing, because none of it has been made public yet," she added. "We can see what they are doing relatively soon."

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on Women in Combat]

The secretary, through his lawyers at the Department of Justice, will have 30 days from the August meeting to respond to the ACLU's complaints. The ACLU reached this agreement in a conference call with DOJ lawyers.

On May 15, the Pentagon deadline for the service branches' plans, Lapidus told U.S. News, "The military needs to move as expeditiously as possible. There should be no foot dragging."

The Pentagon has declined to discuss these plans during the review process.

"The successful integration of women into currently closed positions requires the department to be thoughtful and deliberate in determining the next steps," says spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen. "The department and the services will proceed in a measured and responsible way to open positions to women."

Women are currently barred from serving in combat positions such as armor, cavalry, infantry or in special operations. Women also may not perform tasks that are open to them – such as medics – in units that engage in direct combat.

[PRESS PAST: Arguing for and Against Women in Combat ... in 1978]

Female veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have argued America's 21st century wars do not have clear front lines, and they have already been thrust into de-facto combat positions.

Women make up 15 percent of active duty ranks across the services and 20 percent at the service academies, according to Pentagon statistics from March. Their largest concentrations are within the junior non-commissioned officer ranks – such as Army, Marine Corps or Air Force sergeants and Navy petty officers – and junior officers, such as lieutenants, where they make up roughly 19 percent of the ranks.

The smallest and starkest percentages are among flag officers. Only one woman, an Air Force general, currently holds the top rank among services. There are only two female flag officers in the Marine Corps, a brigadier general and a major general.

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