May 08, 2005

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Stealth plan for women in combat

By Elaine Donnelly

Gen. Peter Schoomaker raised eyebrows when he dismissed as not a "gender issue" the women-in-combat controversy at an American Enterprise Institute symposium.
    The Army Chief of Staff April 11 answered a questioner who rightly praised the courage of female soldiers but expressed concern about the unprecedented number of women maimed or killed in Iraq (33, to date) and Afghanistan (5).
    Gen. Schoomaker's rambling answer confirmed a supposedly "unofficial" plan for placing women in combat, being put into effect in the 3rd Infantry Division despite frequent denials anything has changed. The blueprint seems to be a Jan. 24 "Women in the Army Point Paper" by the office of Army Secretary Francis Harvey, which includes a subtle but significant change in the wording of Defense Department regulations.
    Current directives exempt female soldiers from direct ground combat units such as the infantry and armor, and from smaller support companies that "collocate" (operate 100 percent of the time) with land combat troops. The new, unauthorized wording narrows the "collocation rule" to apply only when a combat unit is actually "conducting an assigned direct ground combat mission."
    Gen. Schoomaker recited Defense Department regulations but claimed (without justification) the Army has separate rules exempting female soldiers from collocation with land combat battalions "at the time that those units are undergoing those operations." By adding "conducting" or "undergoing" (a direct ground combat mission) to the collocation rule, the Army has created a new rule not authorized by the defense secretary or reported to Congress in advance, as the law requires.
    Mr. Harvey's plan presumes to alter the "gender codes" of 24 of 225 positions -- mostly mechanics -- to accommodate women in a typical forward support company (FSC). Unlike transportation units that come and go intermittently, these units are designed to operate in constant proximity with combined infantry/armor battalions.
    Army officials say they need not notify Congress of any rule change because women in those formerly all-male positions are "not collocating." For this to be true, officials would have to compromise organizational efficiency or remove female soldiers from embedded forward support companies when their infantry/armor battalions begin "conducting" land combat. And spare helicopters and armored vehicles for evacuation would be as rare as "beam me up Scotty" transporters.
    The insurgent battlefield in Iraq has not reduced enormous demands on infantry, Special Operations Forces and Marine units that engage in deliberate offensive action against the enemy. In the fierce battle for Fallujah, great physical strength and the psychological bonds of cohesion empowered soldiers and Marines to accomplish combat missions and survive.
    The politically correct view is that training alone can prepare female soldiers for land combat alongside men. Gen. Schoomaker said, "I think we have a moral responsibility to prepare those women that are serving in our armed forces ... by providing them with the warrior skills and tasks that are required." Improved training on how to evade or survive ambushes makes sense, but gender-normed "warrior ethos" training -- an oxymoron -- cannot prove feminist dreams of interchangeable men and women in or near land combat.
    When the British military replaced "gender fair" training standards "appropriate to women's physique" with an egalitarian "gender free" regimen, injuries more than doubled. (London Times, March 22) A 1998 study at the U.S. Naval Academy documented women suffered knee-ligament injuries 9 times as often as men.
    Women are smart and courageous, but Army would never send female football players to beat Navy on the gridiron. The same officials seem to believe a few weeks of "warrior" training are enough to transform black-bereted female "soldiers" into the functional equivalents of men.
    Physical disparities are not the only issue. Noting many parents teach their sons to protect women, the questioner respectfully asked Gen. Schoomaker if such an upbringing can be reconciled with the Army's current policy of sending women into hostile circumstances to kill or be killed. Admitting he hadn't thought about the questioner's moral reservations, Gen. Schoomaker seemed to equate them with conscientious objectors, or with people saying "men and women can't even share the same tornado shelter in Oklahoma," whatever that means.
    The response did not inspire confidence, especially when the Army is carrying out an unauthorized "stealth" plan to gender integrate combat-collocated support companies. Mr. Harvey's plan even eliminates several land combat units from the list required to be all-male. If the Army succeeds in circumventing law and policy, demands for "consistency" will affect Special Operations Forces and eventually the Marine Corps.
    There is no military justification for an incremental "little bit pregnant" plan for gender-integration that undermines the advantages of modularity in the Army's new, smaller "unit of action" combat brigades. There is no evidence of a shortage of male soldiers, but if there is a need for more men, the Army should end counterproductive recruiting quotas for women.
    The law requires the defense secretary to provide formal advance notice to Congress of policy changes regarding female soldiers, accompanied by an analysis of proposed revisions on women's exemption from Selective Service obligations. This is a national security matter, not a less important "women's issue." Members of Congress, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush should intervene to enforce the law.
    Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

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