When Evelyn Hall first approached Army recruiters three years ago, they told her she'd make a great cook or maybe even a judge advocate general in an office somewhere.
She just laughed.
"I don't want to be a secretary. I want to serve my country," the 26-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior said.
She signed an eight-year contract with the Army Reserve in 2006 and now is training to become an officer through the school's ROTC program.
"I still wear toenail polish under my boots sometimes when I'm not supposed to, but when it comes down to it, I'm like, 'Let's get down and dirty,'" Cadet Hall said.
Department of Defense and Army policy prohibits women from serving on the front lines of combat, but in the war on terror, those front lines are not clearly defined.
Cadet Hall said her job with the Chattanooga-based 212th Transportation Company is every bit as risky as being on the front lines of an infantry battalion because convoys carrying supplies are a popular target for insurgent attacks.
Army Pfc. Stephaine Patterson, a Dalton, Ga., native said though women have been integrated into wartime missions since the 1940s, the long-standing policy on women in combat reflects another time.
"I understand why they started this before, but this is a different day of age and we have better resources then we did back then," she wrote in an e-mail from Iraq.
Pfc. Patterson is a Dalton, Ga., native and the only woman deployed with her unit, the Army Reserve's 591st Transportation Detachment.
Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain, said the concept of warfare has evolved, as well.
"The policy on women in ground combat dates back to the early 1990s, and it's based on Cold War-era, or even World War II-era, principles of warfare," said Ms. Manning, who serves as director of the Women in the Military Project for the Washington, D.C.-based Women's Research and Education Institute.
"It assumes a very definitive front line, and that you're fighting another sizable army that's like yourself," she said.
That makes little sense in a war in which every service member - male or female, infantry or noninfantry - is vulnerable to insurgent attacks using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.
The policy has become an issue primarily in the Army because that service branch now makes up most of the ground forces in the Middle East, according to Ms. Manning.
"What the Army has done to avoid getting ensnared in that political nightmare is leave it up to the ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to make that decision," she said.
In line of fire
So while a woman can't be assigned to a combat unit, she could be "attached" to that unit if needed. In effect, she could be in the same area as a combat unit but technically reporting to a different chain of command.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 73,390: Female veterans in Georgia
* 38,009: Female veterans in Tennessee
* 34,155: Female veterans in Alabama
* 1,802,491: Total female veterans
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs
* 102: Women killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom
* 602: Women wounded in action during OIF
* 14: Women killed during Operation Enduring Freedom
* 18: Women wounded in action during OEF
Source: Department of Defense
WOMEN IN THE MILITARY
* 1942: The military creates women's branches in each of the armed services.
* 1948: Congress passes the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.
* 1973: Recruiting goals for women begin to increase with the abolishment of the draft.
* 1974: Army women become eligible for aviation duty in noncombat aircraft.
* 1980: Congress passes the Defense Officer Manpower Personnel Management Act, which abolishes separate appointment, promotion, accounting and separation procedures for women service members.
* 1988: The Department of Defense Risk Rule sets a single standard for excluding women from positions and units, allowing 30,000 new positions to open for them.
* 1994: The DOD Risk Rule is rescinded, opening 32,700 new Army positions and 48,000 new Marine Corps positions to women.
* 1998: Women aviators fly in operational combat missions for the first time.
Sources: New York Times Magazine, Women's Research & Education Institute, www.history.com
* Today: Women in combat
* Monday: Finding a place in the ranks
A 2007 Rand Corp. study noted this discrepancy.
"Neither the letter nor the spirit of the policies is clear," concluded Margaret Harrell, a senior social scientist at Rand and the lead author of the report.
The report stopped short of making any explicit recommendations, Ms. Manning said, but the implication is that leadership should clarify its policy. To make a change, military officials would have to notify Congress to create a new law on the issue.
Defense department officials maintain the existing policy is working fine.
"The policy has long and successfully balanced opportunities for women to pursue challenging careers, despite a clear limit on any assignment to ground combat units," said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.
"Women will continue to be assigned to units and positions that may necessitate combat actions within the scope of their restricted positioning - situations for which they are fully trained and equipped to respond," she said.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Michigan-based nonprofit Center for Military Readiness, agreed.
"To treat (women) equally would be unfair," said Ms. Donnelly, pointing to physical differences between the sexes. "We're proud of the service of women in our military, but where you get into problems is when you try to pretend that the men and women are interchangeable."
Patricia Canerdy, who deployed to Iraq with the Chattanooga-based Army Reserve 591st Transportation Detachment in 2004 but since has retired to manage the unit as a civilian, said existing rules are OK for some women, but not all.
Individual capabilities are more important than gender, according to Mrs. Canerdy, a Flat Rock, Ala., resident who said she saw just as many weak men as weak women during her deployment.
Case by case
"If I were going to rewrite the rules, I think I would open (combat jobs) up to everyone on a case-by-case basis," Mrs. Canerdy said.
Cadet Hall agreed but said she realizes she's still going to have to go the extra mile to prove herself to some of her male colleagues. Though attitudes toward female service members have evolved, she said, there are some men who simply "hide (sexist attitudes) in this whole facade they call chivalry."
"We can do a lot, but there's still a lot of red tape," she said.
Certain jobs such as field artillery require signing a contract that essentially says a woman should understand that males probably will be promoted faster than she will, Cadet Hall noted.
"If they would give us a chance, they would be amazed," she said.