- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Army Secretary Francis Harvey has told Congress that the service will keep the Pentagon’s ban against female soldiers in ground combat, including no assignments to units that routinely embed with war fighters.

The Army had been reviewing the 1994 ban to see whether changes should be made to coincide with a sweeping transformation plan for combat brigades. Some officers at the Pentagon advocate lifting the ban on embedding, or collocating, sex-integrated support units with infantry, armor and other combat units.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads a pro-military group, said yesterday that it is still not clear whether the Army is telling Congress one thing, while in actual operations, it plans to mix integrated Forward Support Companies (FSC) within combat units.

“It’s disappointing that official information from the Army seems so difficult to come by,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “If they say the FSC will be all-male, and historically they have been, that would be true compliance with law and policy. However, if there are female soldiers being trained for the FSCs, that would be something else.”

Mr. Harvey sent a memo to four senior members of Congress on Thursday, a day after The Washington Times reported that the president had said in an interview that he opposes any move to change the ground combat prohibition. The president was emphatic: “No women in combat.”

The Army, for months, has been reviewing the role of female soldiers. Confidential briefing papers obtained by The Times showed that senior officers advocate lifting the so-called “collocation rule.” This would have allowed women to serve in support units, such as Forward Support Companies, that normally embed with combat units such as armor or infantry and are in fact combat troops.

Mr. Harvey last week notified the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees that he was retaining the ban. The Stars and Stripes newspaper first reported on the memos.

Mrs. Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness and has been working to expose the internal Army debate, expressed suspicion and asked why the Army is reluctant to explain its decision in full.

She questions whether the Army intends merely to assign co-ed Forward Support Companies outside a combat unit’s organizational chart, even though they will have to embed with those units to do the resupply mission.

The Army in November gave a private briefing to House military staffers that showed FSCs attached to brigade support battalions, a move the Army did not consider to be collocation. Mrs. Donnelly disagrees.

“The issue is not where they put them on paper, but the reality,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “If they put gender-integrated FSCs with the brigade support battalion, then they would be violating the collocation policy.”

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, is spearheading a major transformation of Army brigades by turning them into “units of action” that train and deploy as one. To fully achieve these rapid deployment brigades, some inside the Pentagon have advocated changing the collocation rule so that mixed-sex FSCs can be embedded with them.

The Times has reported on two sets of briefing papers circulated at the highest levels of Army headquarters. One states that the Army does not have enough male soldiers to keep the FSCs all-male and should therefore consider the change.

A second Nov. 29 briefing from the director of the Army’s Human Resources Policy Directorate states: “The way ahead: rewrite/eliminate the Army collocation policy.”

With the Harvey memo, that idea appears, for now, to be dead.

Reporters and editors of The Times asked Mr. Bush in a Jan. 11 Oval Office interview whether he supported internal Army proposals to change the land-combat rules.

“There’s 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.”

The Clinton administration in 1994 lifted the ban on women in combat aircraft and ships, but left in place the prohibition on direct land combat and collocation.

Advocates of lifting the collocation cite a need for deploy-as-one brigades, and note that in Iraq there are no clear lines of battle. Islamist terrorists attack support units about as often as they strike all-male units that are clearly combat units.

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