WASHINGTON -- This is why Marine Capt. Zoe Bedell walked away from active service to her country:
During her second tour of duty in Afghanistan, Bedell, then a lieutenant, ran a team of 47 female Marines in dangerous Helmand province. The location and the jobs were about as tip-of-the-spear as it gets, said Bedell, whos now 27 and a Marine reservist.
She and her team went door-to-door on patrol, and in doing so faced the same dangers as the male Marines who were doing the same job. They were one of the so-called Female Engagement Teams.
Her team, though, wasnt allowed to officially be living or working at the tip of the spear, so every 30 days or so they had to ship out to a safer spot.
Of course, moving is always dangerous, which means that unnecessary movement is unnecessarily dangerous, she said. We were willing. We were needed. But we werent allowed. And the sole reason for that was that we were women.
It became very clear to me that I was working in an organization which officially viewed me as a second-class citizen. I knew it was time to get out.
Welcome to the Kevlar ceiling, and a prime reason that the Pentagon recently ended what was widely seen as an increasingly illogical ban on women in combat. The ban was running counter to reality. Women in the military already were serving on the front lines, just not getting full credit for their combat roles because it was officially prohibited.
Those familiar with the impact of the ban on women in combat say that while public chatter has focused on emotional and sensational-sounding issues Where will female combat troops take bathroom breaks, or can women be expected to carry 200-pound wounded male soldiers to safety? the reasons to lift it rest in the numbers.
About one in five junior officers across the services, for instance, are women. But because official combat roles were ruled out of bounds for women, and those roles are always at least the tiebreaker, if not the primary determinant, in promotions to higher ranks, the percentages of women decline as ranks increase.
By the time service members reach the rank of general, women are down to about one in 12, according to Pentagon statistics.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Department of Defense hadnt looked backward to try to project what gender diversity in the ranks would look like if the combat ban had been lifted before this last decade of overseas wars.
Still, he said a Pentagon report last year to Congress and similar report by the Rand Corp. found no evidence of women having less than equitable opportunities to compete and excel before the ban was lifted.
Other concerns, such as more women among the higher ranks would change the nature of the military in decades to come, were widely dismissed. Women who volunteer for service are volunteering to follow orders, just like men who volunteer, military experts said.
The Pentagon report did note that women remained in the military longer than 20 years less often than men did, and thats the point in a career at which promotions to the top are made.
But military experts and some women in the service say that misses the point. About 80 percent of generals come from combat backgrounds. Banned from combat, women would see their careers being limited. In November, for instance, 237,000 positions in the military _ such as infantry _ were closed to women.