- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Army said yesterday it is “premature” to say whether the service will ask for changes in rules forbidding women in combat, a day after President Bush said firmly that he opposes changing the rules against assigning women to ground combat.

The Washington Times asked Army headquarters at the Pentagon whether, given the presidents statement, the service would end a yearlong internal discussion about lifting the so-called “collocation rule” to change the rules prohibiting mixed-sex units commingling with combat units.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart said: “The policy concerning women’s roles in the military is still in effect. The Army remains in compliance with the current policy and public law regarding women in combat. It is premature to speculate about whether we will request a change at this time.”

If the Army changes the rule, it would require approval from the staff of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and notification of Congress.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and opposes women in combat, yesterday said the center applauds Mr. Bush for affirming his support for current Defense Department policy on land combat, but said the White House should intervene to prevent thwarting the commander in chiefs opposition.

Mrs. Donnelly, who has wide contacts within the military, said the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., is intermingling mixed-sex Forward Support Companies with combat battalions. The division, which led the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, is readying to return to Iraq early this year.

“There is a need for the administration to intervene,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “Some Army officials have claimed that the Defense Department policy remains unchanged. But these assertions are mistaken and misleading.

“Blocks have been moved around on paper charts to create the impression that nothing has changed. In reality, however, the Forward Support Companies in question will be collocated with the new combined infantry-armor maneuver battalions. As such, they should remain all male.”

Internal Army documents dating back to May 2004 show that, as part of a sweeping transformation of 10 combat divisions, the service is considering asking to end the so-called “collocation rule.” Under a 1994 Pentagon policy, women are barred from units that participate in direct land combat.

In light of the internal debate, Mr. Bush was asked his views in an Oval Office interview Tuesday with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“Theres no change of policy as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Bush said. “No women in combat. Having said that, let me explain, we’ve got to make sure we define combat properly: We’ve got women flying choppers and women flying fighters, which I’m perfectly content with.”

In 1994, the Clinton administration opened combat ships and aircraft to women for the first time, but retained the prohibition on land combat units.

The internal documents show the Army is debating how to organize and deploy Forward Support Companies. Support units are normally mixed-sex. In the new Army, smaller brigades, or units of action, will deploy as they train, with support units in place.

This reorganization raises the possibility of violating the “collocation” rule.

An Army briefing given to senior officers at the Pentagon on Nov. 29 states: “The way ahead: rewrite/eliminate the Army collocation policy.”

A previous briefing in May said that if the Army complied with the policy and kept Forward Support Companies all-male, it “creates potential long-term challenge to Army; pool of male recruits too small to sustain force.”

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and author of four books on national security, said this statement illustrates how the service does not have sufficient soldiers to fight the war on terror and still follow the Pentagon rule on women in combat.

“You have to either change your policies or your preconceptions,” Mr. Allard said. “That means, No. 1, you need more people in uniform and you need more men in uniform if you are going to keep the policy. You cannot continue to keep the same size and then have some hope that you’re going to be able to make all this stuff work.”

The Army is increasingly stretched thin, as it fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and maintains a deterrent force in Europe and South Korea, and gives combat units time to rest and replenish at home base before deploying again.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker has used emergency powers to increase the active force by 30,000, to more than 500,000 soldiers.

One argument inside the Army for discarding the “collocation” rule, despite the presidents opposition, is that in Iraq women are already closer to combat than in any previous war. Battle lines have merged and every unit, whether front-line combat or rear-line support, is targeted by Iraqi insurgents. More than 25 women soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq.

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