- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2001

For military people serving their country, political expression essentially is limited to casting a secret vote on Election Day.

In the 2000 presidential election, Democrats feared that most of those votes would go for the Bush-Cheney ticket. They tried to obstruct the counting of overseas absentee ballots in Florida, and former Vice President Al Gore did not object. Despite that effort, thousands of votes from military people and their families made a critical difference in the election of George W. Bush.

Noisy homosexual and feminist activists are now demanding that the new administration continue the most controversial social policies of former President Bill Clinton. By contrast, military voters are quietly anticipating constructive change. The appointment of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signaled that President George W. Bush intends to make good on Vice President Dick Cheney's promise: "Help is on the way."

With so much to do, where to begin? Recruiting and retention numbers have been alarmingly low, so increased pay and benefits are high on the Bush-Cheney agenda. Shortages in spare parts, maintenance, fuel and training hours have brought the military to the ragged edge of readiness, so the new president will ask Congress for increased funds to meet those basic needs.

Excessive deployments and questionable missions have been a sore point for years, so the administration's national security team will re-assess overseas commitments. The overall goal is to pursue a strategic vision to defend America against real threats, including ballistic missiles.

These are straightforward steps in the right direction, but still not enough. To truly restore the strength of the military, something must be done about Clinton-era social policies that have vitiated readiness and morale. For the past eight years, civilian activists have used the military as a laboratory for social engineering schemes ranging from homosexuals in the military to co-ed basic training. "Sensitivity training" courses were mandated to enforce acceptance of unprecedented social change.

Some Pentagon officials claimed that all was well, and created a demoralizing "credibility gap." A major survey done by the respected Center for Strategic and International Studies found that only 35 percent of servicemen surveyed agreed with the statement: "When my service's senior leaders say something, you can believe it's true." Trust in leadership must be restored if the volunteer force is to survive.

No other administration has faced such a difficult challenge. After four years of "hollowing out" under President Jimmy Carter, all President Ronald Reagan had to do was build enough ships, planes, and weapons to deter aggression and win the Cold War.

To restore a bond of trust with the troops they will lead, President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld must insist upon complete candor from all subordinates. All policies that affect readiness and morale, including social issues, must be reviewed and analyzed objectively, without rewards for bringing good news, or penalties for bad news.

Most social changes were imposed on the military not by legislation, but by Defense Department directives. The order mandating co-ed basic training in the Army, for example, was crafted by former Army Assistant Secretary for Personnel Sara Lister a civilian lawyer and feminist who later became famous for calling the Marines "extremist." Defense Department appointees also were responsible for issuing convoluted training materials and enforcement regulations that are inconsistent with the 1993 law excluding homosexuals from the military.

To stay focused on the impressive agenda outlined in Secretary Rumsfeld's confirmation hearing, the new administration will need qualified and knowledgeable appointees who are prepared to apply sound priorities to all defense issues. Increased pay, benefits, modernization and defenses against ballistic missiles are important, but the Bush-Cheney administration also needs people who will consider taking the following actions, at the appropriate time:

c Eliminate co-ed basic training and housing arrangements in the Army, Air Force and Navy, as recommended unanimously by a 1997 federal advisory committee chaired by former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum-Baker. (The Marines continue to train men and women separately.)

c Enforce the law regarding homosexuals in the military, and improve understanding and enforcement by issuing training materials that include the actual statute and legislative history. Clarifying the rules about eligibility to serve would eliminate confusion, and help put the issue to rest.

c Require the continued enforcement of laws and regulations regarding sexual harassment and personal misconduct.

c Oppose the assignment of women to close combat units, such as multiple-launch rocket (MLRS) field artillery, Special Forces helicopters and submarines.

c Reconsider the Army's new advertising slogan, "An Army of One," and the controversial order that all soldiers be issued black berets similar to those worn by elite Ranger troops.

c Re-evaluate and possibly revise policies associated with the assignment of women to previously closed combat positions on land, sea and in the air.

c Reconsider overly generous pregnancy policies that subsidize and therefore encourage single parenthood, family instability, and dependence on food stamps.

c Require equal opportunity in the armed forces, but end recruiting and promotion quotas that have the effect of discriminating against otherwise-qualified individuals.

c Discontinue the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), and all other tax-funded, largely civilian feminist committees that advise the Defense Department on issues affecting servicewomen.

c Prevent the exposure of American military personnel to multinational command authority or legal actions under international courts and tribunals.

c End all forms of bureaucratic discrimination against military voters and their families, whether serving overseas or in the continental United States.

It is absurd to suggest that Bill Clinton's social policies regarding the military should be automatically continued, and held exempt from scrutiny, criticism or revision. Attorney Anita Blair, who chaired a 1999 congressional commission that studied co-ed basic training, came to a logical conclusion: "Never mind about turning the clock back or forward. If it's broke, just fix it."

Military voters are counting on President George W. Bush to "fix" the armed forces. For the sake of national security, that is a promise that must be kept.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

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