- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just as the U.S. military is indoctrinating troops to accept open gays in their ranks, a federal commission is pressing the Pentagon to make the force more diverse by, among other ideas, opening infantry and armor units to women.

With the Military Leadership Diversity Commission’s report out this month, its leaders have briefed Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn and plan to deliver its 162-page report to every member of Congress.

The commission says it wants the military to resemble the ethnic makeup of America. It is urging the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force to “validate” the standards — such as education, test scores, criminal records and drug use — that disqualify large numbers of blacks and Hispanics.

“Racial/ethnic minorities are less likely to meet eligibility requirements than are non-Hispanic whites, and that gap is widening,” the report says.

The commission said women should be allowed into male-only land combat units to “create a level playing field” in promotions “for all service members who meet the qualifications.”

**FILE** U.S. Army soldiers and Iraqi security forces secure the scene of a roadside bomb attack in Basra, Iraq, in September. (Associated Press)
**FILE** U.S. Army soldiers and Iraqi security forces secure the scene of ... more >

The Pentagon seems open to the prospect of repealing a 1994 law that prevents women from joining direct land combat in infantry, most artillery and tank units. Congress enacted a law that did allow women on combat ships, as well as on bomber and fighter aircraft.

Part of the momentum for women in direct combat units stems from the fact they have engaged in firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan as military police and been subjected to enemy fire and homemade bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), just like the men.

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the Defense Department “is committed to performing the comprehensive and expansive review” of the combat exclusion law.

“The nature of today’s conflicts is evolving,” Ms. Lainez said. “There are no front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. While women are not assigned to units below brigade level whose primary mission is direct combat on the ground, this doesn’t mean they are not assigned to positions in combat zones that could place them in danger.”

Hardened combat veterans say there is a big difference between a female MP exchanging gunfire with insurgents and the upper-body physical demands of an Army Ranger or Navy SEAL engaged in intense close-in violence.

“I believe there is a broad lack of understanding of exactly what direct ground combat is,” retired Gen. Carl Mundy, a former Marine commandant, told The Washington Times.

“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left an impression that being subjected to IEDs or even enemy small-arms fire, or that being captured, wounded or killed is direct combat. It isn’t.

“Closing with and destroying the enemy by the most violent means available — and often at eyeball-to-eyeball range — is direct combat. Moreover, the units which are trained into the teams to engage and defeat the enemy directly exist on the basis of masculine cohesion.

“I believe that female service members bring tremendous skills and talents to many sectors of our armed forces, but I believe equally strongly that they are not best suited for the unique demands associated with direct combat units.”

With the commission report done, the issue has become a policy question for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a political-military decision for lawmakers.

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