Points of Interest

By Tom Philpott
  • With the full House and a third of the Senate up for reelection, few lawmakers will risk offending women's groups, who see even limited gender-segregation as a step backward.
  • A bill to segregate the sexes in basic training, sponsored by Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), so far does not seem to have enough support even to clear the House National Security Committee.
  • The General Accounting Office, in mid-March, criticized the method used by the advisory committee, led by former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, to assess and ultimately lambaste the effectiveness of gender-integrated training.
  • Congress has ordered still another commission on women in the service, which will not file a report until next spring.
  • Defense Secretary William Cohen, who appointed the Kassebaum Baker committee, supports the services' positions for now. He and the services embraced all of the committee's major recommendations except its call for a return to gender-segregated units in boot camp and gender-separated barracks for all training.

Cohen said he hopes training, discipline, and physical fitness problems can be eased by implementing Kassebaum Baker's other recommendations. He ordered the services to explain how they will make physical training more rigorous; improve quality of trainers; ensure male and female recruits have separate living areas that are secure, even if in the same building; increase the number of female trainers and recruiters; refocus recruit advertising on patriotism and personal challenge; restore an emphasize on "core values."

Elaine Donnelly with the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes advances for women at the expense of readiness, called Cohen's reaction to Kassebaum Baker more "politics of the Pentagon."

At the subcommittee hearing, skeptical lawmakers pressed Pilling and other service vice chiefs to explain how training problems can be corrected without separating the sexes. Republicans were joined by ranking Democrat Gene Taylor of Mississippi who said drill instructors tell him they feel like babysitters trying to keep young men and women apart. They worry too about how to handle female recruits and yet avoid career-ending harassment complaints.

"It's crazy," Taylor told Army General William W. Crouch. "It's unfair to your soldiers."

Marine General Richard I. Neal, Assistant Commandant, said Marine Corps recruits are separated by gender in boot camp to ease distractions. "We don't want them to think about anything but being Marines," said Neal.

The other services, in sharp contrast, argued that gender-integration must begin in boot camp.

That position, while politically correct, appears to defy logic, said Representative James L. Talent (R-MO).

"Kids today go to high school with the opposite sex, work their first job with the opposite sex. . . . They should have a better idea how to work with the opposite sex than people have ever had. . . . If we are indeed sacrificing cohesion, physical conditioning, or combat readiness because of physical and psychological differences between men and women, how can it be worth it?" Talent asked.

But General Crouch said youth who enlist today enter a "radically changed environment" from their civilian experience. They must be trained to work together amid that stress.

"The last thing I want as an operational commander is someone stepping into a foxhole or that MP squad not conditioned to function as part of a unit that is gender-integrated," Crouch said.

But if it is that difficult for men and women to work together in service, Talent countered, perhaps critics of women in service are correct arguing they do not belong. In fact, Talent added, he knows they do. But why can't they be taught mixed-gender teamwork after they've been indoctrinated into service life?

"I'm going to put these troops under fire within minutes of them coming out of a training base, or I have to be prepared to do that," Crouch said. "That's something entirely different from any civilian pursuit."

"General Crouch," warned subcommittee chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN), "perhaps the unintended consequence of your testimony today is to drive me closer to a decision to make the Army more like the Marine Corps."

Retired Brigadier General Evelyn Foote, who co-chaired the Army Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment following the recent scandals at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, said women don't need separate training or separate barracks. They are wise to be wary of change that could constrain careers.

"Women continue to justify their right to serve as soldiers in the United States Army," she told the sub-committee. "It is still, essentially, a man's army."

 

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