First Female Combat Veterans Elected to Congress May Lead to Change in Military

Tammy Duckworth says women should be able to serve in combat ground units.

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At an event honoring military veterans newly elected to Congress, hosted by national veteran nonprofit GotYour6 Thursday night, two of the honorees stood out.

Representatives-elect Democrats Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth from Illinois stood on stage among the male military veterans elected this year. Their election marks the first time in history two female combat veterans will serve in public office. Twelve military veterans were elected in total, 10 of which are men. Nine of those men are Republicans.

Gabbard served as a company commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard, with whom she deployed in 2004 as a medical operations specialist for a year-long combat tour near Baghdad. In 2009, she deployed a second time to the Middle East, where she helped train the Kuwait National Guard.

Duckworth still bears the wounds of her combat tour. In 2004, she lost both her legs after being hit by a grenade while co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq. She became an officer in the Army Reserve in 1992, later joined the Illinois Army National Guard, and lobbied for better care of veterans as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But while these women provided medical services or flew helicopters in combat, the military does not currently allow women to serve in combat ground units, such as artillery or infantry.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it was suing the Department of Defense to lift that ban.

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Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the progressive women's group the National Women's Law Center, says the election of Gabbard and Duckworth may help spur the ACLU effort forward. "They are very credible voices as women who have actually been in combat and can make the case for why women can do the job," she said.

Gabbard did not respond to a request for comment, but she has spoken favorably of the expanding numbers of women in the military, including in her address at the Democratic National Convention.

In an E-mail, Duckworth told Whispers she supported the ACLU's efforts.

"I fully support the ongoing effort to allow women to officially serve in more combat arms specialities, as I did as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq," she wrote. "Women have played a significant role in our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and ... it is clear that America's daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.