- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Democrats and Republicans staked out positions on women in combat yesterday on the eve of an expected House vote on legislation that would, by law, prevent the military from moving women into ground combat units.

It also would freeze the number of ground-operation positions for women to those currently open.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, held a press conference to underscore that his amendment to codify the regulatory ban will not remove women from positions now available.

“This bill does not create new language. It just codifies existing Army policy,” Mr. Hunter said. “If the Army is interested in changing its policy, then the change must come from Congress.”

The committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, issued a statement to counter Mr. Hunter.

“This [Hunter] provision will limit the roles women may serve under the guise of increased congressional oversight,” Mr. Skelton said. “By limiting women to only those jobs they perform today, it will be more difficult for commanders to adapt their forces to the changing needs of current operations around the world.”

The debate is expected to reach the House floor today or tomorrow if Mr. Skelton and two Republicans are successful in getting the Rules Committee to approve a counteramendment to the 2006 defense authorization bill of $441 billion.

A floor vote is expected to be close.

In committee, two Republicans voted for a Democratic alternative that had the unanimous support of the minority party. The Hunter amendment then passed on a voice vote.

Congressional staffers said late yesterday that there was talk among Republicans of offering a new amendment to replace Mr. Hunter’s in a bid to get more votes.

Republican Reps. Heather A. Wilson of Arizona and John Shimkus of Illinois sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter urging support for the amendment they offered along with Mr. Skelton. It would strike the Hunter language and order the Pentagon to do a comprehensive study of women’s roles in the military.

“With over 100,000 Americans engaged in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is not the time to create confusion about how commanders in the field can use their people,” said Mrs. Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate, and Mr. Shimkus, a U.S. Military Academy graduate.

Mr. Hunter’s legislation is stirring the first congressional debate on military women’s roles since 1994. Then, the Pentagon opened air and sea combat jobs to women, but retained barring them from ground combat units such as infantry, armor and artillery units.

The policy also bans women from support units that collocate, or embed, with ground combat units. Mr. Hunter wants to turn the policy into law.

Elaine Donnelly, head of the Center for Military Readiness, says the Army is violating the collocation policy in the way it deploys forward support companies (FSCs). An FSC typically has about 225 soldiers, with about 10 percent of positions open to women.

Mr. Hunter, after a staff investigation, agreed. He sponsored an amendment at the subcommittee level to bar women from FSCs. But he scrapped that idea at the committee level, choosing to enforce the collocation policy by making it a federal law and freezing women in their current positions.

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