WASHINGTON – From the odyssey of Pfc. Jessica Lynch (search) during the invasion of Iraq, to daily images of female soldiers working in combat zones, the U.S. military has deployed nearly 10,000 women to Iraq and Afghanistan.
And even with a Pentagon directive that prohibits females from serving in direct ground combat, dozens of women have been killed in hostile fire.
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee say they see a situation demanding congressional action. Late Wednesday, the committee narrowly passed an amendment that would bar women from serving in direct combat.
"This was a time for the Armed Services Committee to bring some sanity to the situation and draw a line of demarcation that we should not have women in combat," said committee chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
Supporters of the Defense Department authorization bill amendment say it would put into law an 11-year-old Pentagon policy that keeps women out of direct combat roles. The Defense Department on Thursday called the move "unnecessary," and said many misconceptions are being thrown around about the role of women in Forward Support Companies (search).
"The Army has thoroughly reviewed the existing law, and Department of Defense and Army policies, especially as to how they apply to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to key Army transformation initiatives, and determined that the Army is in compliance," read a statement released by the Pentagon. "The proposed legislation...is unnecessary, does not provide further clarification, and may in fact lead to confusion on the part of commanders and soldiers."
An earlier version of the amendment would have banned women from many combat support jobs, forcing the military to pull thousands of women out of the war zones.
In a letter to Congress, the Army's vice chief-of-staff, Gen. Richard Cody, said that measure would have caused "confusion in the ranks" and sent the "wrong signal" to those in uniform.
The last major debate on the role of America's female warriors took place in the mid-1990s when then Defense Secretary Les Aspin (search) expanded the military jobs open to women, including female combat pilots. Still, that policy sought to keep women away from direct combat on the front lines.
But today's battlefields, particularly in Iraq, have no front lines and insurgent attacks can happen anywhere at anytime. Military commanders say women as a whole have performed magnificently during the war, which is why some in Congress say they're baffled by the current debate.
"What we're saying to the women is 'you're not good enough' and what we're saying to the men is 'women aren't good enough to watch your back.' It's a very negative message to send," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.
Changes for women on the battlefield are hardly imminent, but for now the Pentagon has been put on notice that a growing and powerful constituency on Capitol Hill is prepared to act to keep America's female fighters away from the fight.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Greg Kelly.