SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Four military women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan sued the U.S. Department of Defense in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday to challenge the policy of excluding women from almost all combat duty.

The four Army and Marine Corps and Air National Guard officers, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, said the policy violates their constitutional right to equal treatment.

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They are asking for a court order overturning the exclusion.

The lawsuit alleges that because battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan lack clear boundaries and front lines, women are in effect already serving in combat.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

But the policy denies them combat training as well as recognition and promotions for their service, and deprives the military of their talents by causing women to leave, the lawsuit states.

“The combat exclusion policy is based on outdated stereotypes of women and ignores the realities of the modern military and battlefield conditions,” the lawsuit alleges.

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Two of the plaintiffs, California Air National Guard Major Mary Hegar and U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, received Purple Hearts while under fire in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hegar, a helicopter pilot who rescued wounded soldiers, was injured by a bullet that penetrated the helicopter, and returned fire after the helicopter landed and came under attack in Afghanistan in 2009.

She said at a news conference, “The ability to serve in combat has very little to do with gender or any other generalization.

“This policy is an injustice to the women who have come before us and who continue to put their lives on the line for their country,” Hegar said.

The lawsuit states that while the Defense Department has recently allowed about 14,000 women to serve in combat positions, women are excluded from more than 238,000 other positions.

A Defense Department spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

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